China’s Powerful ASO-S Sun Gazing Telescope Prepares to Capture ‘Lightning Fireball’


China’s powerful indigenous telescope, Advanced Space-Based Solar Observatory (ASO-S), intended to get up close and personal with our system’s thundering fireball, is set to lift off on its four-year mission this fall.

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Aimed to capture never-before-seen images of the sun during its nastiest phase of the year when it spews devastating fire and brimstone, it will unravel the mysteries of solar flares, solar radiation and other space weather phenomena.

The mission’s results are expected around the world by physicists, scientists, engineers and conservationists as they obtain raw data on the behavior of the sun.

Amid the dark times of global warming and the exciting dawn of a second space age, which has witnessed discoveries and achievements in space, the mission takes on special significance. Mission scientists have already announced in the journal Nature Astronomy that they will make the research results public.

Artist’s rendering of China’s ASO-S Solar Telescope

China Solar Research Program

The 888-kilogram ASO-S will lift off on October 20 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, joining other similar space telescopes such as NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the European Space Agency‘s Solar Orbiter. .

There is a secondary motive behind the project, as China faces the embarrassing contradiction of its reputation with the second highest number of solar physics papers, but relies on data collected by others. country.

The satellite/space telescope launch was timed to coincide with the sun’s next “solar maximum”, a period of strong solar activity, in the 11-year cycle that is expected to begin in 2024-2025.

“Last October, China launched a small experimental satellite called Chinese Hydrogen-Alpha Solar Explorer (CHASE) to study solar flares as precursors to ASO-S.

Earlier this year, CHASE became the first telescope to obtain hydrogen-alpha spectral lines from space, revealing unique details about the structure, evolution and dynamic process of solar flares,” said a South China Morning. Post (SCMP).

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Equipped with state-of-the-art instruments that the Chinese say are not found on any of the other solar missions, ASO-S will be 720 kilometers (447 miles) above Earth to simultaneously monitor the two most violent phenomena on the sun – solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

According to a researcher quoted by the South China Morning Post (SCMP) report, he will also study its ever-changing magnetic field.

India China Mission to Sun
File Picture

The fury of the sun remains a mystery

While the nature and general causes of solar flares and coronal mass ejections have been well studied, scientists are often puzzled about their impact on space weather and how they knock out satellites, electronics, networks electricity and Internet services on Earth.

Scientists have few samples to study since most solar radiation is blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere. But ASO-S can study ejections and solar phenomena 40 hours before their arrival. Solar flares are intense bursts of light.

Coronal mass ejections involve the release of vast clouds of charged particles called plasma, mostly at high frequency since the start of the sun’s last stormy solar cycle in December 2019.

During a solar maximum, solar flares can occur several times a day, and some can be as powerful as a billion hydrogen bombs.

Since the 1960s, more than 70 missions have been launched to study the sun from space. Chinese scientists have developed solar-powered remote sensing instruments and mounted them on other satellites, but ASO-S will be their first dedicated tool for examining the sun.

ASO-S carries a magnetic detector, a solar telescope and an X-ray imager to track the sun’s magnetic fields and thunderstorm activity, which are “key to space weather forecasting”, said Gan Weiqun, chief scientist of the mission, quoted by Xinhua.

Indian Solar Mission Aditya-L1

India’s solar mission, Aditya-L1, will be launched this year, 1.5 million kilometers from Earth to the Lagrange point L1, just between the Earth and the Sun, where the gravitational pull of two bodies is equal. This allows it to see the sun without any continuous occultation/eclipse.

However, being in a stationary orbit without moving with the rotation of the Earth, no ground station will be in constant contact with the Aditya-1, due to which the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) will use the European Space Agency (ESA) Global Network on Deep Space Communication Antennas.


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