October 2, 2023

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India launches its first spacecraft to study the Sun, Aditya-L1

India launches its first spacecraft to study the Sun, Aditya-L1

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India has launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying the sun, following a month of historic successes for the country’s civilian space efforts.

The spacecraft, named Aditya-L1, lifted off from Sriharikota Island off the Bay of Bengal, at 11:50 a.m. local time Saturday (2:20 a.m. ET). It is headed for the parking lot in orbit about 930,000 miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.

The successful launch of Aditya-L1 comes less than two weeks after the Indian space agency, the Indian Space Research Organization, made history by landing the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft on the moon. This achievement made India only the fourth country in the world – and the second in the 21st century – to safely land a rover on the moon.

This task is expected to be completed next week.

Meanwhile, Aditya-L1 is heading to its destination at Lagrange point 1, the region between the Sun and Earth where the gravitational pull of both celestial bodies cancels each other out. This position will allow Aditya-L1 to remain in orbit, in an ideal position to monitor the sun’s activities, with little fuel consumption.

This position “will provide a greater advantage for monitoring solar activities and their impact on space weather in real time,” according to the space agency.

The spacecraft is equipped with seven scientific instruments, four of which will be trained directly on the sun while the other instruments will study solar wind particles and magnetic fields passing through the Lagrangian point 1.

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The mission’s main objectives include studying the sun’s upper atmosphere and various solar phenomena, such as the coronal mass ejection – or massive ejection of plasma from the sun’s outer layer.

Information from the Aditya-L1 experiments will provide a clearer picture of space weather, or the term used to describe the magnetic waves rippling through our solar system. Space storms can have an impact on Earth when they reach our atmosphere, sometimes affecting satellites, radio communications and even power grids, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

India’s Aditya-L1 will add to information gathered on other missions designed to study the sun, including NASA’s Parker Solar Probe which in 2021 becomes the first spacecraft to “touch” the sun.

India’s first dedicated solar mission adds to the country’s status as an emerging space superpower.