Our solar system is the largest object in the universe, but the thought of how big is the solar system often causes us chills. But don’t worry, we have got you covered. Let’s have a look over some of the amazing facts about our solar system, and learn valuable content!

What is the Radius & Diameter of the Sun?

The sun is almost a perfect sphere. Its size is very similar at the equator and the poles, differing by only 6.2 miles (10 km). The sun’s average radius measures 432,450 miles (696,000 kilometers), which gives it a diameter of around 864,938 miles (1.392 million km). According to NASA, you could fit 109 Earths across the sun’s surface. The sun’s circumference is roughly 2,715,396 miles (4,370,006 km).

While it’s the largest object around, the sun appears quite ordinary next to other stars. For instance, Betelgeuse, a red giant, surpasses the sun significantly, being roughly 700 times larger and approximately 14,000 times brighter.

NASA says:

“We have found stars that are 100 times bigger in diameter than our sun. Truly those stars are enormous. We have also seen stars that are just a tenth the size of our sun.”

What is the Size of the Solar System in Light Years?

  • The Moon is located about 1.3 light-seconds away from Earth.
  • Earth sits approximately 8 light-minutes (around 92 million miles) from the Sun. This indicates that sunlight takes 8 minutes to travel to us.
  • Jupiter’s distance from Earth is roughly 35 light minutes. So, if you were to shine a light from Earth, it would take about 30 minutes for the light to reach Jupiter.
  • Pluto isn’t at the outermost boundary of our solar system. Beyond Pluto lies the Kuiper Belt, and farther out is the Oort Cloud. The Oort Cloud forms a round layer of icy objects encircling our entire solar system.
  • If you could travel at the speed of light, it would take you approximately 1.87 years to reach the edge of the Oort Cloud. This implies that our solar system spans about 4 light-years from one end of the Oort Cloud to the other.

How the Planets are Aligned in a Specific Way?

One of the coolest things to watch in the night sky is when two or more planets get really close to each other. Astronomers call this a “conjunction.” Sometimes, when we look at the way planets move around, we also see something called an “alignment.” It’s like the planets are lined up in a row. In the picture on the left, you can see this happening with Mercury (M), Venus (V), and Earth (E).

how big is the solar system
A planetary alignment is only what we perceive from Earth and not a physical line-up of planets in our solar system. Withan Tor/Shutterstock

When we look from Earth, Venus and Mercury can seem super close to the sun. If they match up perfectly, they might even look like black dots moving across the sun’s face at the same time. This is called a “transit.”

Now, let’s talk about how often these cool planet line-ups happen. Earth takes about 365 days to go all the way around the sun. Mercury takes 88 days, and Venus takes 224 days to do the same thing. The time between these line-up events needs each planet to finish a whole number of trips around the sun before they get back into the same pattern you see in the picture.

For a simpler example, let’s imagine that Mercury takes a quarter of a year (like three months) to go around the sun, and Venus takes two-thirds of a year (a bit more than half a year) to finish its trip around the sun.

How Big is the Solar System Compared to the Sun?

The sun is at the center of the solar system, and it’s the biggest thing around. It holds almost all the mass in the solar system, about 99.8%. It’s huge, about 109 times wider than Earth. So, if you are wondering how big is the sun, then let’s give you an idea. give you an idea.

how big is the solar system
One of the first images taken by the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter during its first close pass at the sun in 2020. (Image credit: Solar Orbiter/EUI Team/ ESA & NASA; CSL, IAS, MPS, PMOD/WRC, ROB, UCL/MSSL)

The sun’s surface is really hot, about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius). But deep inside, at the core, things get much hotter – over 27 million degrees Fahrenheit (15 million degrees Celsius) – because of nuclear reactions. Just to match the sun’s energy, you’d need to explode 100 billion tons of dynamite every single second. That’s a lot of power, as NASA tells us.

Our sun is just one of more than 100 billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy. It’s about 25,000 light-years away from the center of the galaxy, and it takes about 250 million years to complete one trip around that center. The sun is still young compared to some stars. Scientists call it a “Population I” star, which means it has a good amount of heavy elements. There are older stars in the “Population II,” and there might have been even older ones called “Population III,” although we haven’t found any of those yet.

How Did we Come to Our Solar System Name?

We call our group of planets the “solar system” because we use the word “solar” to talk about things connected to our star. This comes from the Latin word for the Sun, “Solis”. Our group of planets is found in one of the outer curls of the Milky Way galaxy.

How big is the solar system in miles?

If we consider the Oort Cloud as a sort of rough edge, our solar system’s size reaches about 2 light years. To give you an idea, that’s nearly 12 trillion miles!

How big is solar system in light-years?

Imagine if you could move as fast as light. It would take you roughly 1.87 years to get to the outer edge of the Oort Cloud. This also means that our entire solar system spans around 4 light-years from one end of the Oort Cloud to the other.

Is 1 hour in space 7 years on Earth?

The tale goes like this: spending 1 hour on that specific planet equals 7 years out in space. Time dilation is a true concept, but thinking it could be that extreme in any normal situation is quite unrealistic. In reality, it’s just a tiny fraction of a second, not several years.

How big is the Universe solar system?

The part of the Universe we can see spans 93 billion light-years. But if we look at our own galaxy, the Milky Way, it’s much smaller, only about 100,000 light-years across. Exploring just our galaxy would take countless lifetimes, not to mention the whole Universe. Another really old structure is a giant group of galaxies called the Hyperion Supercluster.

Astronomers have identified an Earth-size exoplanet, or globe outside our solar system, that may be covered in volcanoes. The planet, known as LP 791-18 d, may have volcanic outbursts as frequently as Jupiter’s moon Io, our solar system’s most volcanically active body. NASA’s TESS, Spitzer Space Telescope, and an array of ground-based observatories were used to find and study the planet.

earth size exoplanet
Astronomers discovered and studied the planet using data from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) along with many other observatories. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Chris Smith (KRBwyle)

A report published on May 17:

A report describing the planet, led by Merrin Peterson, a graduate of the Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx) at the University of Montreal, was published in the scientific journal Nature on May 17.

Björn Benneke:

“LP 791-18 d is tidally locked, which means the same side always faces its star,” explained Björn Benneke, co-author and iREx astronomy professor who designed and supervised the project. “The day side is likely to be too hot for liquid water to exist on the surface.” However, the amount of volcanic activity that we suspect occurs all across the planet may be enough to sustain an atmosphere, allowing water to condense on the night side.”

LP 791-18 d:

LP 791-18 d circles a small red dwarf star in the southern constellation Crater, which is roughly 90 light-years away. According to the team, it is only slightly larger and heavier than Earth.

How does the size and weight of LP 791-18 d compare to the other planets in the system?

Prior to this discovery, astronomers were aware of two more worlds in the system known as LP 791-18 b and c. The inner planet b is around 20% the size of Earth. The outer planet c is around 2.5 times the size of Earth and weighs more than seven times as much.

What is the effect of the close passes of planet c on the planet d’s orbit and surface?

Planets d and c pass close to one other during each orbit. Each close pass by the more massive planet c causes a gravitational tug on planet d, causing its orbit to become slightly elliptical. Planet d is significantly distorted as it orbits the star on this elliptical course. These deformations have the potential to generate enough internal friction to significantly heat the planet’s innards and spark volcanic activity on its surface. Jupiter and some of its moons have similar effects on Io.

Where is planet d located in relation to the habitable zone?

Planet d is located on the outside of the habitable zone, which is the typical range of distances from a star at which astronomers believe liquid water may exist on the planet’s surface. If the planet is as geologically active as the researchers believe, it may be able to support life. Temperatures on the planet’s night side may fall low enough for water to condense on the surface.

James Webb Space Telescope observation:

Planet c has already been cleared for James Webb Space Telescope observing time, and the team believes planet d is an excellent candidate for atmosphere investigations by the mission.

Jessie Christiansen:

“A big question in astrobiology, the broad study of the origins of life on Earth and beyond, is whether tectonic or volcanic activity is required for life,” said co-author Jessie Christiansen, a research scientist at NASA’s Exoplanet Science Institute at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “In addition to potentially providing an atmosphere, these processes could churn up materials that would otherwise sink and become trapped in the crust, including those we believe are essential for life, such as carbon.”

Spitzer Observation:

Spitzer’s observations of the system were among the last data points collected by the satellite before it was retired in January 2020.

Joseph Hunt:

“It’s incredible to read about the continued discoveries and publications years after Spitzer’s mission concluded,” said Joseph Hunt, Spitzer project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “This demonstrates the accomplishments of our world-class engineers and scientists.” They collaborated to build not only a spacecraft but also a data set that is still useful to the astrophysics community.”

Who are the collaborators and partners involved in the TESS mission?

TESS is a NASA Astrophysics Explorer mission led and administered by MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Northrop Grumman in Falls Church, Virginia; NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian in Cambridge, Massachusetts; MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory; and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore are among the other collaborators. The mission includes more than a dozen colleges, research institutes, and observatories from around the world.

Where is the Spitzer data archive located and who oversees it?

The Spitzer data archive, which is kept at the Infrared Science Archive at IPAC at Caltech in Pasadena, California, houses the whole body of scientific data produced by Spitzer during its existence. Spitzer mission operations were overseen for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington by Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Spitzer Science Center at IPAC at Caltech was the site of the science operations. Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado was responsible for spacecraft operations.

For more than four decades, NASA’s Voyager spacecraft have been venturing into the farthest reaches of our solar system and beyond. Voyager Mission Launched in 1977, the twin spacecraft. The purpose of Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 was to explore the outer planets of our solar system and study their atmospheres, rings, and moons. However, their mission didn’t end there. Both Voyager probes continue to send data back to Earth as they travel through interstellar space, becoming the first human-made objects to do so.

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2
This infographic highlights the mission’s major milestones, including visiting the four outer planets and exiting the heliosphere, or the protective bubble of magnetic fields and particles created by the Sun. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Before we go further, let’s dig into the mission with a brief,

Overview:

NASA’s Voyager mission is one of the most remarkable space exploration initiatives to date. Approved in May 1972, this mission has allowed us to gain knowledge about the outer planets that had not existed in all of the preceding histories of astronomy and planetary science. The Voyagers have been working tirelessly for over three decades and continue to provide valuable information about our universe. This article will explore some fascinating facts about the Voyager mission.

You should also know,

What was the cost of the Voyager Mission?

The total cost of the Voyager mission, including launch vehicles, radioactive power sources (RTGs), and DSN tracking support, is 865 million dollars. While this may sound expensive, it’s essential to put it in perspective. On a per-capita basis, the cost is only 8 cents per U.S. resident per year or roughly half the cost of one candy bar each year since project inception. Moreover, the entire cost of Voyager is a fraction of the daily interest on the U.S. national debt.

Effort and Time Devoted:

A total of 11,000 workers were devoted to the Voyager project through the Neptune encounter. This is equivalent to one-third of the effort estimated to complete the great pyramid at Giza to King Cheops. It’s an incredible feat that highlights the dedication and perseverance of the skilled personnel involved in this mission.

Now, we will be discussing the objectives of the mission. 

What are the Objectives of the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM)?

The Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM) aims to push NASA’s exploration of the solar system beyond the outer planets. It seeks to reach the farthest limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence and beyond. The mission is an extension of the initial objective. It aims to study the outer solar system environment and identify the heliopause boundary. Additionally, it seeks to explore the outer limits of the Sun’s magnetic field and study the outward flow of the solar wind.

The VIM is an ongoing mission that continues to provide valuable insights into the outer regions of our solar system. The heliopause boundary separates the solar wind and interstellar medium. If it’s penetrated, measurements can be made. These measurements will be unaffected by the solar wind and will pertain to interstellar fields, particles, and waves.

Now, let’s discuss each spacecraft separately in detail. We will be starting with the,

Voyager 1 – Overview:

Voyager 1, launched by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1977, is the farthest spacecraft from Earth.

The primary mission of Voyager 1 was to fly by Jupiter and Saturn. However, it crossed into interstellar space in August 2012. Voyager 1 still transmits valuable data back to Earth. Voyager 1 and its sister spacecraft, Voyager 2, have been in operation for over four decades. This makes them the longest-running spacecraft in history.

Voyager 1 Spacecraft
NASA’s Voyager 1 Spacecraft Illustration Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

These missions provide unparalleled observations of space, and they have helped scientists understand energy and radiation in space. This data is critical for the future of space exploration, including protecting future missions and astronauts. The Voyager 1 spacecraft weighs 1,592 pounds (721.9 kilograms) and was launched using a Titan IIIE-Centaur rocket from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral, Florida on September 5, 1977. NASA and JPL manage the mission design and operation.

Voyager 1 has a copy of the Golden Record on board. The record serves as a message from humanity to the cosmos. It contains greetings in 55 different languages. It also has photographs of people and places on Earth. The record includes music from various cultures. The music includes classical compositions by Beethoven and a rock ‘n’ roll hit “Johnny B. Goode” by Chuck Berry.

Now, let’s find out the,

What are the objectives of Voyager 1?

The main objective of Voyager 1 was to conduct a flyby of Jupiter and Saturn and to study their moons and rings in detail. Additionally, the spacecraft was tasked with collecting data on the interstellar medium and the boundary between our solar system and interstellar space. 

Voyager 1, a spacecraft, has a golden record on board that contains sounds and images representing humanity. The record includes in case the spacecraft is ever found by extraterrestrial life. The Voyager 1 mission was successful. It exceeded expectations and provided insights into our solar system and beyond. The mission was valuable.

If you are wondering,

How Voyager 1 has achieved these objectives?

To achieve its objectives, Voyager 1 was equipped with a suite of scientific instruments. This allows it to capture high-resolution images of planets and moons, and analyze ultraviolet light. Moreover, it allows measuring the temperature and composition of gases in outer planet atmospheres. The spacecraft also conducted various studies. Voyager 1 studied radio signals emitted by planets. Furthermore, measured the polarization of sunlight reflected by planets. It measured magnetic fields around planets. It also measured charged particles in magnetospheres and the interplanetary medium. Additionally, Voyager 1 detected and analyzed radio and plasma waves in magnetospheres. The Voyager 1 spacecraft had various scientific objectives. One of them was to measure cosmic rays in the interstellar medium. It also studied the atmospheres, ionospheres, and rings of planets and moons. It accomplished this through the use of a Radio Science System.

What achievements did Voyager one have made so far?

Voyager 1’s achievements have been groundbreaking and have paved the way for future space exploration missions. Voyager 1 has achieved many milestones throughout its mission, including being the first spacecraft to cross the heliosphere, the boundary where the influences outside our solar system are stronger than those from our Sun. As a result, it became the first human-made object to venture into interstellar space.

Voyager 1 also made important discoveries about the outer planets during its journey. For example, it discovered a thin ring around Jupiter and two new Jovian moons: Thebe and Metis. At Saturn, Voyager 1 found five new moons and a new ring called the G-ring.

In addition to its planetary discoveries, Voyager 1 carried a suite of scientific instruments that allowed it to study the space environment in great detail. The data returned from these instruments has helped to further our understanding of the solar wind, cosmic rays, and the structure of the heliosphere.

Its legacy as a trailblazing spacecraft continues to inspire scientists and engineers alike.

Now, its time to dig into the,

Voyager 2- Overview:

Voyager 2 has been a groundbreaking mission that has provided us with a wealth of information about our solar system’s outer reaches. It  is one of NASA’s most iconic spacecraft. The spacecraft was launched on August 20, 1977, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The purpose of spacecraft was built to take advantage of a rare planetary alignment to explore the outer planets of our solar system. Weighing 1,592 pounds (721.9 kilograms), Voyager 2 is similar to its twin spacecraft, Voyager 1, and is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Voyager 2 Spacecraft
NASA’s Voyager 2 Spacecraft Illustration Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The spacecraft was launched aboard a Titan IIIE-Centaur launch vehicle, also known as TC-7, from Launch Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral. After launch, Voyager 2 began its journey towards Jupiter, where it arrived in 1979. The spacecraft continued to Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune, becoming the first and only spacecraft to visit these outer planets. Its successful mission made Voyager 2 the second human-made object to enter interstellar space after its twin, Voyager 1.

One of the key features of Voyager 2 was its scientific instrumentation. The spacecraft carried a suite of scientific instruments designed to study the atmospheres, surfaces, and magnetic fields of the outer planets and the space between them. The data collected by Voyager 2 has greatly expanded our knowledge of the outer solar system and provided invaluable insights into the nature of these distant planets and their moons.

It remains an active spacecraft, and scientists continue to study the data it sent back to Earth, as well as the conditions of interstellar space that it is currently exploring.

What are the objectives of Voyager 2?

The purpose of Voyager 2 was to explore the outer planets of our solar system, which include Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. To achieve this objective, the spacecraft had various scientific instruments such as cameras, spectrometers, magnetometers, and particle detectors. These tools helped in studying the planets, moons, rings, and atmospheres.

The mission also had a secondary objective, which was to study the heliosphere. This area is affected by the solar wind, and Voyager 2’s instruments were used to study the solar wind’s properties, interplanetary magnetic fields, and other outer solar system phenomena.

What are the features of Voyager 2?

The management of Voyager 2n is under JPL. However, NASA designs this space craft with a suite of scientific instruments to study the outer planets and the edge of our solar system. Its instruments included an Imaging Science System (ISS), Ultraviolet Spectrometer (UVS), Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer (IRIS), Planetary Radio Astronomy Experiment (PRA), Photopolarimeter (PPS), Triaxial Fluxgate Magnetometer (MAG), Plasma Spectrometer (PLS), Low-Energy Charged Particles Experiment (LECP), Plasma Waves Experiment (PWS), Cosmic Ray Telescope (CRS), and Radio Science System (RSS). The ISS captured visible and infrared light images, the UVS provided atmospheric composition insights, and the IRIS measured thermal radiation to reveal planet temperatures and compositions. The other instruments measured the properties of plasma, magnetic fields, and cosmic ray fluxes to provide information about the outer solar system and the heliopause boundary.

What achievements have Voyager 2 made so far?

Voyager 2 is a remarkable spacecraft with numerous accomplishments. It is the only spacecraft to have studied all four of the giant planets of our solar system up close. During its mission, Voyager 2 discovered a 14th moon at Jupiter, and at Uranus, it discovered 10 new moons and two new rings. Voyager 2 made history as the first human-made object to fly past Uranus and then by Neptune, where it discovered five moons, four rings, and a “Great Dark Spot.” 

These incredible discoveries would not have been possible without the scientific instruments onboard Voyager 2, such as the Imaging Science System (ISS), Ultraviolet Spectrometer (UVS), and Planetary Radio Astronomy Experiment (PRA), among others. The data returned by Voyager 2 has revolutionized our understanding of the outer solar system and has helped us unravel some of the mysteries of our universe.

Lastly, we will be concluding the whole discussion with a,

Conclusion:

Interstellar Space Exploration
This illustration shows the current positions of NASA’s Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes: far outside the heliosphere, in interstellar space.
Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Voyager Interstellar Mission is a testament to human ingenuity, curiosity, and perseverance.

On the whole, Voyager has accomplished bold objectives and made remarkable achievements. It has rewritten the textbooks on our understanding of our solar system and the universe beyond. Voyager launched over four decades ago and is still journeying into interstellar space. It has inspired scientists, engineers, and space enthusiasts to push boundaries. We continue to receive data and insights from Voyager, leading to more discoveries and surprises in the cosmos.

Olympus Mons located on the Red Planet and is the largest volcano in our solar system, which looms high above the Martian plains.  This marvel of the solar system is capturing the imagination of scientists and space enthusiasts alike.  It’s a volcano so colossal that it makes the tallest mountain on Earth look like a mere foothill in comparison. 

Before we begin, let’s dig into,

What is Olympus Mon?

When we think of volcanoes, we often picture them here on Earth, but did you know that the tallest volcano in the solar system is located on Mars? Olympus Mons, the tallest volcano in the solar system, is a fascinating natural wonder that is not located on Earth, but on Mars. Named after the tallest mountain in Greece, Olympus Mons is a shield volcano that has captured the attention of scientists and space enthusiasts alike.

Olympus Mons volcano
(Image credit: Getty Images)

“The fact that Olympus Mons is so large is perhaps not that surprising,” said Francis Nimmo, a planetary scientist at the University of California Santa Cruz, “gravity is lower on Mars than on Earth, so the volcanoes can grow bigger before the crust supporting them fails. But the devil is in the details.”

Now you might be wondering,

What makes Olympus Mons unique compared to other volcanoes, and what are its size and shape?

Olympus Mons’ formation and size make it a fascinating and unique natural wonder that continues to captivate the imagination of scientists and space enthusiasts alike. Olympus Mons is a unique shield volcano in its formation and size. Like many other volcanoes, it was formed by lava flows, but its massive size sets it apart. Standing at a staggering height of 24 kilometers and measuring over 550 kilometers across, Olympus Mons is more than two and a half times the height of Mount Everest and nearly the size of the state of Arizona.

Black outline of Arizona
(Image credit: NASA)

What makes Olympus Mons stand out as a shield volcano is its shape. Lava slowly flows out of the ground to form shield volcanoes, which are low and squat. This type of volcano has an average slope of only 5%, making it much less steep than other types of volcanoes. Olympus Mons’ height is therefore even more impressive when you consider that it was formed by relatively gentle lava flows over time.

You also might be wondering,

Where is it located on Mars?

Olympus Mons is situated in the northern section of the Tharsis Highlands, a vast volcanic plateau on Mars that covers an area roughly equivalent to the size of North America. The Tharsis region is characterized by a cluster of massive shield volcanoes, with the tallest volcano in the solar system being the most prominent of them all.

Tharsis Bulge on Mars
Four massive volcanoes make up the Tharsis Bulge on Mars. Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/Justin Cowart

Due to the thin atmosphere on Mars, which has a surface pressure of less than 1% of Earth’s, the peak of Olympus Mons rises above the planet’s atmospheric boundary and appears to float above the surface. If one were to stand at the summit of the volcano, one would be standing at an altitude of about 22 kilometers (14 miles) above the average Martian surface, which is almost three times the height at which commercial airliners fly on Earth.

The location of Olympus Mons is not only notable for its height but also for its formation. The volcano can exist on Mars because of the planet’s unique geological and environmental conditions. Unlike Earth, Mars has no plate tectonics, which means there are no moving plates that can cause volcanic activity. Additionally, Mars has a lower gravity compared to Earth, allowing volcanoes to grow much larger before their crustal support fails. All these factors contributed to the formation of Olympus Mons, making it the largest volcano in the solar system, towering over Earth’s Mauna Loa in both height and width.

One of the common things asked about it is,

What is the estimated age of Olympus Mons, and why is it considered a potentially Active Volcano?

 

Scientists consider Olympus Mons a young and active volcano because they estimate its age to be only a few million years.  To put this in perspective, Earth’s largest volcano, Mauna Loa in Hawaii, is over half a million years old. The relatively young age of Olympus Mons suggests that it is still active and could erupt again.

One reason why Olympus Mons could continue to grow even larger is due to the unique geological conditions on Mars. Unlike Earth, Mars lacks tectonic plates, which means that when a hot spot forms and lava begins to flow to the surface, the hot spot doesn’t move, and the lava continues to pour out in one location. This results in a shield volcano that can grow to immense sizes over time. As fresh lava flows to the surface and cools, it adds to the existing mountain, potentially increasing its size.

The possibility of future eruptions on Olympus Mons is a topic of interest to scientists, who continue to study the volcano and monitor any signs of activity. If the volcano were to erupt again, it could provide valuable insights into the geological processes that shape Mars and help us better understand the history and potential future of the Red Planet.

Now, we should also know,

What is the visibility of Olympus Mons from Space?

The enormous size of Olympus Mons makes it easily visible from space. From a distance, the volcano looks like a large, circular, slightly elevated plateau with a depression in the center. Mars is prone to severe dust storms, which can obscure the planet’s surface. However, the height of Olympus Mons allows its peak to protrude above the dust layer. Thus, it remains visible from space.

If someone is standing on the summit of Olympus Mons, it would feel like being in space. This is due to the low atmospheric pressure on Mars. As the air pressure at the summit is only about 1% of the atmospheric pressure at the surface of Mars. As a result, technically, someone standing on the summit would be reaching into space. The atmospheric pressure is so low that it almost feels like a vacuum.

Lastly, we will be concluding this with,

Few Ending Words:

Olympus Mons is a fascinating and awe-inspiring natural wonder that reminds us of the vast possibilities of the universe.

Advancements in science and technology are offering exciting opportunities to uncover more great places in space. As we continue to explore our solar system, scientists and astronomers are eager to discover the wonders of the cosmos. Upcoming missions to Mars, as well as the use of advanced telescopes, are contributing to these efforts.

 

Published by: Sky Headlines

The Dawn spacecraft was a groundbreaking mission launched by NASA in 2007 to explore the early days of our solar system by studying two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt – Vesta and Ceres. This $500 million spacecraft equips ion propulsion technology. This allows it to achieve impressive acceleration and make a significant contribution to the field of space exploration. During its eleven-year mission, Dawn provided critical data on the formation and evolution of celestial bodies, including key findings about Vesta and Ceres, the location of their formation, the potential for oceans on dwarf planets, and the discovery of organic molecules on Ceres.

Asteroid Vesta
NASA’s Dawn spacecraft took this image of asteroid Vesta on July 24, 2011, from a distance of about 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers). Dawn entered orbit around Vesta on July 15, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

First, we should know;

What is the Dawn spacecraft?

Dawn spacecraft was a mission launched by NASA in September 2007 to study two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt – Vesta and Ceres. The spacecraft used ion propulsion, a space propulsion breakthrough. The total cost of the spacecraft is $500 million, which includes $370 million for building and launching the spacecraft and $130 million for 11 years of operations and data analysis. At launch, the spacecraft weighed 1,647.1 pounds and carried 937 pounds of xenon propellant for the ion propulsion system. The spacecraft’s pointing control at launch was achieved with four reaction wheels, augmented by 100.5 pounds of hydrazine.

snowman on asteroid Vesta
Dawn took this picture of a group of craters resembling a snowman on asteroid Vesta on Aug. 20, 2011. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

What is the functional structure of the Dawn spacecraft?

The ion propulsion system of the spacecraft consisted of three thrusters. Each of which measured 13 inches in length and 16 inches in diameter, weighing 20 pounds each. The system produced a thrust ranging from 0.07 to 0.33-ounce propulsion system allowing the spacecraft to achieve an acceleration of 0 – 60 mph in 4 days at full thrust.

“It is a tribute to all those involved in the design and operations of this remarkable spacecraft,” said Marc Rayman. He is the chief engineer for the Dawn mission and former project manager for Deep Space 1, in a statement. “I am delighted that it will be Dawn that surpasses DS1’s record.”

The launch of the Dawn spacecraft was on September 27, 2007, at 7:34 a.m. United Launch Alliance, Denver provided EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Pad 17B, aboard a Delta II Heavy 2925H-9.5 rocket, including a Star 48 upper stage. The mission had two extended missions, the first from July 2016 to October 2017, and the second from October 2017 to November 2018. The spacecraft’s mission came to an end on November 1, 2018, after completing its objectives. The Dawn spacecraft was a remarkable technological achievement and a significant milestone in the exploration of the solar system.

Now let’s find out;

What did the Dawn spacecraft discover?

NASA’s Dawn mission began in 2007 to study early solar system processes. The spacecraft visited two-time capsules of the solar system, Vesta and Ceres, which are the largest bodies of the main asteroid belt. Dawn’s mission aimed to build a detailed picture of the early days of the solar system. It was formed 4.6 billion years ago. Dawn mapped these planet-like worlds from orbit. As it provides key pieces of data that scientists could not obtain using telescopes or brief flybys.

Image of Ceres
This image of Ceres was made in September 2017 from views that Dawn took at about 240 miles (385 kilometers) above the surface. At the center is Occator Crater, home to the brightest area on Ceres. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

So,

Location is Key:

NASA’s Dawn mission discovered that the location of the formation of celestial bodies in the early solar system is essential to understanding their evolution. Scientists studied Vesta and Ceres to determine their histories, and the findings from the mission indicate that Vesta likely formed in the inner solar system and remained there. Whereas Ceres likely formed farther from the Sun and drifted inward. They differ in local action and determined the amount of water present in the bodies, which played a crucial role in how they cooled. Vesta cooled slowly and formed a metallic core and rocky mantle and crust. While Ceres cooled rapidly and formed a stratified interior consisting of a water-rich rock mantle and a water-rich ice and hydrate outer shell. These findings have implications for early solar system and planetary migration models.

Dawn’s Findings on Vesta:

The Dawn mission revealed important findings about the dwarf planet Vesta, including the confirmation that the giant basin in Vesta’s southern hemisphere, Rheasilvia, is more than 310 miles in diameter and 12 miles deep. The mission also discovered a second impact basin what we call Veneneia.  Rheasilvia partially covered it.

Christopher Russell, the principal investigator for Dawn. He stated that: “We went to Vesta to fill in the blanks of our knowledge about the early history of our solar system”.

The data from the Dawn spacecraft shows that these giant impacts created dozens of canyons. Hence, rivals the size of the Grand Canyon, and the surface of the southern hemisphere appears younger than the northern hemisphere due to the massive impact that carved Rhea Silvia. Furthermore, Dawn found water-rich minerals on Vesta’s surface. Since asteroids or comets from the outer solar system delivered them to planets.

Floor of Occator
This view of the floor of Occator Crater on Ceres is based on images taken by Dawn in 2018. Occator Crater is 57 miles (92 kilometers) across. The salty liquid released during the freezing of the water-rich floor formed bright pits and mounds. It followed the crater-forming impact about 20 million years ago. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA/USRA/LPI

Dwarf Planets and Oceans:

Dawn’s findings indicate that not only icy moons, but also dwarf planets could have sustained oceans for a significant portion of their existence, and may still possess them. Ceres are an essential element in understanding ocean worlds. As its crust consists of a combination of ice, minerals, salts, and other substances, making it a relic of an “ocean world”.  It retains the chemical composition of its previous ocean and evidence of surface interactions. The observations made by Dawn suggest that some amount of salty liquid could still exist beneath its surface. Ceres, as an advanced dwarf planet, has the potential to offer insights into the environmental conditions of other ocean worlds.

Organic Molecules at Ceres:

Scientists remain curious about the organics discovered by Dawn at Ceres. According to the Dawn team, these organics were likely generated in the dwarf planet’s deep ocean, beginning from its innards. The organics were mostly aliphatic carbon-hydrogen chains. Ceres’ loose surface material contains considerable quantities of carbon globally, despite the organics being found in a small zone. Despite this, the origin of the organics found on Ceres remains unknown.

Lastly, we should conclude this by,

Where is the dawn spacecraft now?

The Dawn spacecraft was a pioneering mission that greatly expanded our understanding of the early solar system and the evolution of celestial bodies. The mission ended on Nov. 1, 2018. The mission was a great success. It was no longer able to communicate with Earth due to the reason the spacecraft ran out of fuel. Furthermore, experts say the spacecraft is still orbiting around Ceres.

When the mission came to an end, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C says: “Today, we celebrate the end of our Dawn mission — its incredible technical achievements, the vital science it gave us. And the entire team who enabled the spacecraft to make these discoveries”. Moreover, he says: “The astounding images and data that Dawn collected from Vesta and Ceres are critical to understanding the history and evolution of our solar system.”

Dawn's End of mission
Dawn’s end of mission statistics. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

 

The spacecraft’s ion propulsion technology and advanced instruments allowed it to gather a wealth of scientific data during its 11 years of operation including more than 51,000 hours of ion engine thrusting, 172 GB of science data, 3,052 orbits around Vesta and Ceres, and over 100,000 images. Additionally, the spacecraft traveled over 4.3 billion miles since its launch in 2007. It reached a record distance of 367+ million miles from Earth. The success of the Dawn mission stands as a testament to the ingenuity and perseverance of NASA’s scientists and engineers. It continues to push the boundaries of our knowledge of the universe.

 

Published by: Sky Headlines

 On March 11, 2013, the team operating the WISE infrared telescope made a surprising discovery. They found Luhman 16, a pair of brown dwarfs located 6.5 light years from our Sun. It is ranking as the third most distant star system known. Let’s quickly review this discovery, and unfold some of the valuable content.

What is the surface temperature of Luhman 16?
Luhman 16 system. Source: ESO / I. Crossfield / N. Risinger

The Nearest & Closing Stars of Earth

The question of which stars are closest to us may seem simple, but it took until the 20th century for humanity to get a reasonably accurate answer. For a long time, we knew little about the distances to other stars.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it was a realization that most nearby stars are small and dim. They are rendering them practically invisible despite their proximity if we compare it to the well-known bright stars. These faint stars are red dwarfs. Barnard’s Star, Proxima Centauri, Wolf 359, and Lalande 21185 are examples of such stars, all closer to us than Sirius, which is 8.5 light years away.

The nearest neighbors of the solar system.
The nearest neighbors of the solar system. Source: Wikipedia

Luhman 16’s Brown Dwarfs

One of our closest ‘star systems’ isn’t made up of stars at all. Instead, it’s a pair of brown dwarfs, objects too small to shine like stars yet too big to be called planets. Interestingly, these brown dwarfs closely resemble Jupiter, our solar system’s largest planet.

The challenge lies in detecting objects even smaller and dimmer than red dwarfs, and that’s where brown dwarfs come in. They were predicted by theory but proved elusive to spot. Brown dwarfs tend to have lower surface temperatures, making their radiation peak in the red part of the spectrum, outside our visible range.

brown dwarfs
A pair of Luhman 16 brown dwarfs in images from the WISE telescope. Source: Wikipedia

Luhman 16, only six and a half light-years away and the third-closest system to the Sun, harbors these elusive brown dwarfs. It wasn’t until 2013 that they were finally discovered. Subsequent observations revealed that these brown dwarfs orbit each other every 27 years, with both being about Jupiter’s size but around 30 times more massive.

Luhman 16 System- The Third Solar System Near Sun

While a decade has passed since the discovery of the Luhman 16 system, much remains unknown. The larger of the two dwarfs, Luhman 16A, weighs in at 3.2% of the Sun’s mass, equivalent to 33 times Jupiter’s mass. Interestingly, it boasts a dense structure, with an estimated radius of only 85% that of Jupiter.

Luhman 16A, belonging to the spectral class L, maintains a surface temperature of 1,350 K (around 1,080°C). There’s a possibility it shines not from residual light but due to ongoing thermonuclear reactions inside.

Luhman 16B, on the other hand, with an estimated mass of 28.6 times that of Jupiter, presents challenges in determining its radius due to fluctuating brightness. It likely reaches surface temperatures of 1200 K and falls into the ‘medium’ class T.

Observations reveal that both brown dwarfs follow a slightly elongated orbit, with a semi-major axis of 3.5 AU and a 27.5 Earth-year period, akin to Saturn’s rotation around the Sun.

Spectroscopic studies uncover an abundance of alkali metals like potassium and sodium in brown dwarfs. However, their age remains uncertain, with estimates ranging from a minimum of 120 million years to a maximum of 3-4.5 billion years.

Does Luhman 16 have planets?

In the Luhman 16 system, close-in giant planets are notably absent. Extensive observations conducted with the Hubble Space Telescope between 2014 and 2016 definitively confirmed the absence of any extra brown dwarfs in the system. Furthermore, it dispelled the possibility of Neptune-mass objects, roughly 17 times the mass of Earth, with orbital periods ranging from one to two years.

What is the Luhman 16 binary system?

Luhman 16A and Luhman 16B. These brown dwarfs orbit each other and are located approximately 6.5 light years away from the Sun. Remarkably, Luhman 16 is the third-closest system to the Sun, following Alpha Centauri and Barnard’s star.

What is Luhman 16 made of?

One of our closest neighboring ‘star systems’ doesn’t actually include any stars. Instead, it consists of a duo of brown dwarfs. These objects aren’t massive enough to emit the brilliant light of real stars, yet they’re too substantial to be classified as planets.

What spectral class is Luhman 16?

Luhman 16A falls into the spectral class L, boasting a surface temperature of approximately 1,350 K (around 1,080°C). There’s a possibility that it doesn’t merely emit residual light but rather shines due to ongoing thermonuclear reactions within. As for Luhman 16B, it remains even more enigmatic.

How bright is Luhman 16?

Despite their faintness, Luhman 16 emits both heat and light. Although it’s far too dim to be visible to the naked eye from Earth. With a surface temperature of around a thousand degrees Celsius or 1350 Kelvin, it would produce a subtle red glow to our eyes.

What is the surface temperature of Luhman 16?

Luhman 16A, classified in the spectral class L. It has a surface temperature of 1,350 K (around 1,080°C), might not simply emit residual light. There’s a possibility that it shines due to ongoing thermonuclear reactions occurring within its core

The Constellation “Sails”:

Even though we can’t directly see them, it’s likely that molecules in Luhman 16 create cloud bands. These are similar to those seen on Jupiter. Some of these bands are thick, appearing dark, while others are thinner, making them brighter. Storms might also swirl through these bands and around the poles, reminiscent of Jupiter’s patterns. So, while Luhman 16’s brown dwarfs are unique in our solar system, they might have some familiar features.

Luhman 16 resides within the constellation Vela. It is ‘the sails.’ This constellation exclusively graces the southern horizon with its presence. It is in the evening hours from the southern US. Luhman 16 itself is quite faint and usually requires the assistance if you want to see.

Solar Orbiter and Parker solar probe are two programs by NASA intended to analyze the atmospheric situations at the Sun.

What were the objectives of the Parker solar probe?

NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe on its quest, along with the ESA solar orbiter, to investigate the Sun within close vicinity. The moniker Parker Solar Probe honors Eugene Parker, who created the hypothesis of solar winds back in 1958.

On the 12th of August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe was introduced. It travels in an exceptionally elliptical course, with gravitational assistance from Venus, bringing its perihelion nearer to the Sun every time it passes. The objective is to maneuver the spacecraft to pass 9.5 solar radii away from the corona. The main scientific procedures are carried out in the area of the orbit colored red, while the spacecraft is 0.25 astronomical units (AUs) from the Sun. The orbit of the Parker Solar Probe gradually disappears after its projected conclusion to its flight in 2025.

“It can’t look at the Sun directly,”

says Müller.

“It only has a camera pointing sideways, where it can look without burning.”

What is the scientific process for solar orbiters?

While for precise solar tracking, the solar orbiter moves its orbit perihelion, the point nearest to the Sun to a location within the orbit of Mercury via an assortment of gravity aids from both the Earth and Venus. Whenever the probe is 0.5 AUs from the Sun, Solar Orbiter’s principal scientific investigations are carried out.

A couple of weeks following its release, the Parker solar probe achieved a historic milestone by passing inside 26.55 million miles of the solar terrain. This made it the closest and fastest man-made spacecraft ever. The probe reached a maximum speed of 153,454 miles per hour.

What are some key contrasts between solar orbiters and parker probes?

The total mass observed for Parker solar probe is 685 kilograms. While for the solar orbiter, the total group counts 1800 kilograms which is almost three times greater than the solar parker. Considering the temperatures of both, the Parker probe is able to tolerate a temperature of up to 2500 degrees Celsius while for solar orbital, it is only 500 degrees Celsius. Parker probe uses only one remote instrument while the solar orbiter employs 6 remote instruments.

Instrumentation and data collection in the solar orbiter

The array of equipment on the solar orbiter detects solar wind plasma, spheres, crests, and energetic elements at sufficient distances from the Sun. This is so to assure that these elements are still largely undamaged. Solar orbiter observes the Sun from as much as 24° of latitude throughout the typical cruise. Solar Orbiter will see the polar regions from stellar latitudes greater than 30° following within eight years, as opposed to 7° at most from Earth.

“The results published today demonstrate the variety of solar science that the mission is making possible, and signals the wealth of data that is now flowing back to Earth.”

says Yannis Zouganelis, ESA Deputy Project Scientist for Solar Orbiter.

What is the significance of both the solar orbiter and the Parker probe’s missions?

In addition to achieving its own scientific objectives, the solar orbiter will offer pertinent knowledge to enhance the comprehension of the Parker solar probe’s actual findings. Collectively, the two different probes will gather complementing collections of data. Resultantly, it will be possible to extract additional scientific information from both explorations than each might have done on its individual mission.

Scientists will understand in greater detail about the solar system and how to lessen the possibility of its disrupting the technologies we use on Earth by the conclusion of the European Space Agency’s solar orbiter expedition compared to ever earlier.

You will be surprised to know that a new, and giant sunspot solar flare is currently visible, and to put the icing on the cake, it’s four times bigger than the size of the Earth and can be seen with the naked eye.

Sounds intriguing?

Yes, it is!

If you are an astrology person and love to gaze moon, and stars, then to your surprise, you can see this sunspot with the human eye. So, witness it before it’s too late.

Now, let’s get a deep overview of this crisp news, by seeing how you can see this giant sunspot, what is the largest-ever solar flare in history, and much other significant information that you will find worth reading.

Solar Dynamics Observatory, showing the size of sunspot
credit: Bum-Suk Yeom

Sun Activity May 31st, 2023. Giant Sunspot Solar Flare Today!

It should be known that the central point of solar activity remains concentrated in the southwest region of our sun.

The area where remarkable phenomena like prominences and exploding filaments continue to occur. So, if you are wondering how giant sunspot solar flares and prominences are related, then it is quite understood.

Solar prominences are just like plasma pools, that connect two sunspots.

And it is worth noting that sunspot AR3310, which had previously moved away from our view on the southwest limb, has shown a reappearance in the activity beyond the visible solar horizon.

On May 31, at 01:17 UTC, we witnessed a filament eruption from this area. Additionally, the southwest region also witnessed the most significant flare in the past day: an M1.4 eruption originating from the giant sunspot region AR3315 at 13:38 UTC on May 30. 

You can effortlessly observe this sunspot with the naked eye, but obviously with the right, and appropriate eye protection. As this giant sunspot will soon rotate out of view in a matter of days, you should hurry, if you want to see it!

But, what are the Solar Flares? Do Solar Flares Come From Sunspots?

Over the next two weeks, as these active regions rotate across the surface of the sun, so there is a possibility of significant eruptions referred to as “solar flares.”

It is important to note that these eruptions can have potential impacts on satellite and spacecraft operations, power systems, radio communications, and navigation systems here on Earth, leading to possible disruptions.

Anticipating the current situation, let’s dig deep into the scientific, and updated information on solar flares causing disturbances. 

How Will Giant Sunspots Affect the Earth? Will it Have Some Aftereffects too?

One thing that you should keep in mind is that during periods of sunspot activity, an escalation in solar flares is expected, leading to heightened geomagnetic storm activity affecting Earth.

Consequently, during maximum sunspots, there will be a boom in the occurrence of the Northern and Southern Lights, also known as auroras, along with potential disruptions in radio transmissions and power grids.

Hold on, yes we know you got stuck at “awe-inspiring Auroras”, but let’s see if something hazardous occurs if any sunspot explodes.

What Happens if Giant Sunspot Explodes?

If any disturbing thing happened, and this explosion occurred while the sunspot was directed towards Earth, there is a potential for a G5-class solar storm to occur.

Such a powerful solar storm can damage satellites, disrupt mobile networks and internet connectivity, and even result in power grid failures.

So, let’s see if our Earth has been ever hit by any giant sunspot in history. Let’s uncover some truth, and surprising backgrounds too!

Has the Massive Solar Flare Ever Hit the Earth?

It would be to your surprise that Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) and their less potent counterparts, solar flares, occur frequently and have impacted our planet on multiple occasions!

One notable instance took place in September 1859 when a powerful solar storm hit Earth, causing significant damage to emerging communication technologies.

And if you are worrying about the effect of Earth, and not just on Earth, but humans too, let us unveil a fact here too!

As solar flares emit high-energy particles and radiation that can be hazardous to living organisms. So, if you are wondering about solar flares’ effects on humans, then fortunately, the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect against the effects of solar flares!

Now, let’s move toward the most commonly asked question that is sure also hitting you!

Will a Solar Flare Hit the Earth in 2025?

According to Berger, a senior space editor:

“There is a possibility of a significant eruption from the sun impacting Earth anytime from now until 2028 or 2029”

While this occurrence is unlikely to have a direct impact on everyday life, it emphasizes the need for NASA and satellite operators to remain vigilant and closely monitor solar activity!

Final Verdict:

Giant sunspot solar flare 2023 has been amazing, and before direct gazing at the sun, it is important to make sure that you have properly donned solar glasses, and it is equally important to avoid your direct eyes from the sun before removing the glasses.

Even minimal exposure to the sun’s unfiltered light can result in lasting harm to your eyes. So, fellas, safety first!

What are solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CME) and how do they affect Earth’s magnetic field?

Solar flares and CMEs (coronal mass ejections) are powerful events that happen in the solar system. They send a lot of energy toward Earth’s magnetic field in the form of plasma gas. This can cause problems for power grids, satellites, and communication networks. Scientists have been trying to figure out how particles get accelerated during big solar energetic events. It’s a big question in the field of heliophysics.

modeling-of-energetic

Dr. Gang Li:

A professor named Dr. Gang Li from The University of Alabama in Huntsville wrote a paper called “Modeling Solar Energetic Neutral Atoms from Solar Flares and CME-driven Shocks”. This paper explains how we can use energetic neutral atoms (ENAs) to learn about how solar flares and CME-driven shocks accelerate particles. This is the first time anyone has shown how ENAs can be used to differentiate between the two acceleration sites.

How solar ENA particles are created and spread?

Dr. Li thinks that this work will make the heliophysics community more interested in studying how solar ENA particles are created and spread. This paper shows that ENAs can help tell the difference between CME/Flare SEP acceleration. This is important because it could help us measure solar ENAs in the future.

Dr. Gary Zank:

According to Dr. Gary Zank, who is the director of UAH’s Center for Space Plasma and Aeronomic Research and the Aerojet Rocketdyne chair of the Department of Space Science, Dr. Li’s work is a new and innovative way to study how particles are accelerated in the sun’s atmosphere from a distance.

What are ENAs and how are they used in space science?

The Department of Space Science is working hard to explore faraway parts of space using ENAs. These ENAs are made in the outer edges of the heliosphere and nearby interstellar space. By studying these ENAs, we can learn more about the plasma physics of these areas.

Dr. Li:

Dr. Li explains that ENAs are used to gather information about physics parameters at acceleration sites. Particles can be speeded up in two places: solar flares or CME-driven shock. Scientists have found this out. Which site is better at speeding up particles? What site can make particles go faster? People often argue about these questions, but we don’t have a definite answer.

Why the sun is the biggest challenge in understanding the physical processes involved in producing SEP events?

The sun is the biggest challenge in solving these mysteries through experiments because we can’t directly measure the conditions near the acceleration sites. This makes it difficult to understand the physical processes involved in producing SEP events.

How could ENAs provide answers to these mysteries?

ENAs could be a new way to provide answers. They are made from hydrogen atoms and come from reactions where protons change. They are neutral particles. Neutral objects are not influenced by magnetic fields.

Why are neutral particles important in studying the sun’s activity?

Dr. Li explains that neutral particles are important because they are not affected by the solar wind MHD turbulence as they travel from the sun to observers. Protons, ions, and electrons are charged particles that travel from the sun to Earth. However, their journey is affected by the magnetic field of the solar wind, which causes them to be distorted. ENAs contain all the physics information from where they were accelerated. Watching them gives us a chance to better understand how particles are accelerated.

What are energetic atoms and how are they measured?

Energetic atoms can share their secrets from a distance of 150 million kilometers away from the sun. This is called 1 astronomical unit. At this distance, a special detector can still measure the ENAs. NASA may launch a new solar mission to learn more about the particles that cause large space weather events and how they affect Earth’s magnetic field. This mission could be a result of efforts to collect more data on the topic.

How can simulations help us understand future ENA observations?

Dr. Li says that our simulation can help us understand future ENA observations. NASA is probably considering studying solar ENA in the future, and they might do this through a mission like the NASA SMEX mission. By focusing on ENA measurements and filtering out charged SEPs, a special mission could give us new insights into how SEPs are accelerated near the sun. This could help us answer some of the questions that have puzzled scientists for a long time.

Dr. Zank:

Dr. Zank is part of a new NASA mission called IMAP. They will use ENA instruments at 1 astronomical unit to measure ENAs created in the far reaches of the heliosphere and from the sun.

Solar observatories have uncovered a new discovery about Asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the celestial body responsible for the annual Geminid meteor shower. It has been found that the asteroid behaves similarly to a comet, overturning previous assumptions. New Study Reveals Asteroid’s Tail is Composed of Sodium Gas, Not Dust NASA’s latest research has utilized data from two of its solar observatories, namely the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) and the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).  However, the study’s lead author, Qicheng Zhang, and his colleagues now believe that some sun-skirting “comets” may actually be rocky asteroids like Phaethon heated up by the Sun.

So let’s find out about,

What do solar observatories reveal about the tail of Asteroid 3200 Phaethon?

A recent study has illuminated the behavior of asteroid 3200 Phaethon, which causes the Geminid meteor shower and possesses comet-like properties. Scientists previously attributed the asteroid’s brightening and tail formation to the release of dust caused by exposure to the Sun’s heat. However, a recent study utilizing data from two NASA solar observatories has uncovered that the tail of Phaethon is, in fact, composed of sodium gas rather than dust. This discovery challenges previous assumptions and suggests that some rocky asteroids may behave similarly to comets when heated by the Sun.

Asteroids, being mainly composed of rock, typically do not exhibit the phenomenon of developing tails as they come closer to the Sun. This characteristic has been traditionally associated with comets, which are typically composed of both ice and rock and form tails when their ice is vaporized by the Sun, ejecting material from their surfaces and leaving behind a trail in their orbit. As Earth intersects with the debris trail of such comets, the resulting meteor shower occurs when the cometary fragments burn up upon entering the Earth’s atmosphere.

sodium-asteroid-phaethon-16sd

The findings were reported by Qicheng Zhang, a researcher at the California Institute of Technology and the main author of a paper published in the Planetary Science Journal. She says: “Our analysis shows that Phaethon’s comet-like activity cannot be explained by any kind of dust,” Moreover, she says: “Comets often glow brilliantly by sodium emission when very near the Sun, so we suspected sodium could likewise serve a key role in Phaethon’s brightening,”

Following the astronomers’ discovery of Phaethon in 1983, it became evident that the asteroid’s orbit was consistent with that of the Geminid meteors. Phaethon was recognized as the likely source of the yearly meteor shower despite being an asteroid.

Moreover, let’s discuss,

Observation of NASA STEREO!

solar observatories revealed comet like tail

In 2009, NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) made an important observation while monitoring Asteroid 3200 Phaethon. During the asteroid’s closest approach to the Sun, also known as “perihelion,” STEREO spotted a brief tail emanating from Phaethon. Traditional telescopes were not able to detect this tail as it only forms when the asteroid is too close to the Sun, making observation impossible except with specialized solar observatories like STEREO. Further solar approaches in 2012 and 2016 also allowed STEREO to witness the development of Phaethon’s tail. The emergence of the tail supported the hypothesis that dust particles were escaping the asteroid’s surface as a result of solar heating.

In 2018, a solar mission captured images of a portion of the Geminid debris trail, which led to an unexpected discovery. Data obtained from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe indicated that the trail had a significantly greater amount of material than what could be attributed to Phaethon’s proximity to the Sun.

The Sun’s high heat during Phaethon’s close solar approaches may indeed cause sodium within the asteroid to evaporate and fuel comet-like activity, according to an earlier study that was based on simulations and laboratory tests.

There is a question that arises: Is Asteroid Phaethon’s Tail Composed of Sodium Gas?

Zhang looked for the tail again during Phaethon’s last perihelion in 2022. He wanted to find out what the tail was really made of. He used the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft, which is a joint project between NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). SOHO has color filters that can find sodium and dust. Zhang’s team also looked through old STEREO and SOHO images and found Phaethon’s tail during 18 close passes to the sun between 1997 and 2022.

When Solar Observatories SOHO looked at the asteroid, its tail looked bright through the sodium filter, but it didn’t show up through the dust filter. Also, the shape of the tail and the way it got brighter as Phaethon went by the Sun were exactly what experts would expect if it were made of sodium, but not if it were made of dust.

This evidence suggests that the tail of Phaethon is composed of sodium, not detritus.

A team member of the Naval Research Laboratory Karl Battams says: “Not only do we have a really cool result that kind of upends 14 years of thinking about a well-scrutinized object,”. Battams added: “But we also did this using data from two heliophysics spacecraft – SOHO and STEREO – that were not at all intended to study phenomena like this.”

phaethon_side_by_side

Scientists question whether some sun-skirting “comets” are actually rocky asteroids like Phaethon. We will be finding it out in:

How Do Asteroids Like Phaethon Supply the Material for Meteor Showers?

Zhang and his research team have raised the possibility that some sun-skirting “comets” discovered by NASA’s Solar Observatories SOHO and citizen scientists through the Sungrazer Project may not actually be comets, but rather rocky asteroids like Phaethon, which have been heated up by the Sun. Despite this new discovery, the question remains as to how Phaethon provides the material for the annual Geminid meteor shower, given that it doesn’t shed much dust. One theory suggests that a disruptive event, such as a piece of the asteroid breaking apart, caused Phaethon to eject the billion tons of material estimated to make up the Geminid debris stream. However, the exact nature of this event remains unknown.