India launched on Saturday its first observation mission to the Sun, just days after the country made history by becoming the first to land near the Moon’s south pole.
It will travel 1.5 million km (932,000 miles) from the Earth – 1% of the Earth-Sun distance. India’s space agency says it will take four months to travel that far.
India’s first space-based mission to study the solar system’s biggest object is named Aditya-L1 after Surya – the Hindu god of the Sun who is also known as Aditya.
And L1 stands for Lagrange point 1 – the exact place between the Sun and Earth where the Indian spacecraft is heading.
According to the European Space Agency, a Lagrange point is a spot where the gravitational forces of two large objects – such as the Sun and the Earth – cancel each other out, allowing a spacecraft to “hover”.
Once Aditya-L1 reaches this “parking spot”, it would be able to orbit the Sun at the same rate as the Earth. This also means the satellite will require very little fuel to operate.
After an hour and four minutes of flight-time, Isro declared it “mission successful”.
“Now it will continue on its journey – it’s a very long journey of 135 days, let’s wish it [the] best of luck,” Isro chief Sreedhara Panicker Somanath said.
Project director Nigar Shaji said once Aditya-L1 reaches its destination, it will benefit not only India, but the global scientific community.
Aditya-L1 will now travel several times around the Earth before being launched towards L1.
India’s mission to the sun carries seven scientific instruments
From this vantage position, it will be able to watch the Sun constantly – even when it is hidden during an eclipse – and carry out scientific studies.
Isro says the orbiter carries seven scientific instruments that will observe and study the solar corona (the outermost layer); the photosphere (the Sun’s surface or the part we see from the Earth) and the chromosphere (a thin layer of plasma that lies between the photosphere and the corona).
The studies will help scientists understand solar activity, such as solar wind and solar flares, and their effect on Earth and near-space weather in real-time.
India has more than 50 satellites in space and they provide many crucial services to the country, including communication links, data on weather, and help predict pest infestations, droughts and impending disasters.
According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), approximately 10,290 satellites remain in the Earth’s orbit, with nearly 7,800 of them currently operational.