The NASA space probe launched on a pioneering mission to our solar system’s star a week ago. Solar Orbiter will visit the Sun’s poles in an attempt to record an intriguing mysterious region of its surface.
A magnetometer is one of the cutting-edge instruments that will allow NASA to accomplish this.
We measure magnetic fields thousands of times smaller than those we are familiar with on Earth
And the UK Space Agency revealed this tech has now beamed back its first data to Earth.
Professor Tim Horbury, principal investigator for the magnetometer instrument, said: “We measure magnetic fields thousands of times smaller than those we are familiar with on Earth.
“Even currents in electrical wires make magnetic fields far larger than what we need to measure.
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“That’s why our sensors are on a boom, to keep them away from all the electrical activity inside the spacecraft.”
The orbiter – constructed by Airbus in Stevenage – launched in the Atlas V 411 rocket from US space agency NASA’s Cape Canaveral.
The Solar Orbiter will orbit the Sun while transmitting high-res photos.
The probe will simultaneously measure the solar wind as part of the mission led by the European Space Agency (ESA) and partly funded by the UK Space Agency.
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Ground controllers at the European Space Operations Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, switched on the magnetometer’s two sensors approximately 21 hours after launch.
One sensor is located near the end of the 14.4ft (4.4m) long boom, and the other is close to the spacecraft itself.
The instrument recorded data before, during and after the boom was deployed.
Scientists can consequently understand the influence of the spacecraft on measurements in the space environment.
The instruments will then have to be calibrated, with the scientific data being collected from mid-May.
It will take the Solar Orbiter about two years to reach the Sun, which scientists call the “cruising phase”.
Günther Hasinger, ESA director of Science, said in a statement: “As humans, we have always been familiar with the importance of the Sun to life on Earth, observing it and investigating how it works in detail, but we have also long known it has the potential to disrupt everyday life should we be in the firing line of a powerful solar storm.
“By the end of our Solar Orbiter mission, we will know more about the hidden force responsible