Science and Exploration

The Violent Sun

By Marc Boucher
Status Report
July 30, 2013
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The Violent Sun
The violent sun.
ESA/SWAP PROBA2 science centre

ESA’s Sun-watching Proba-2 satellite has been in orbit since November 2009, demonstrating a range of technologies and serving as a platform for scientific observations.
The 130 kg satellite carries two solar monitors. One is SWAP (Sun Watcher using Active Pixel System detector and Image Processing), a small telescope that captures the solar corona at wavelengths corresponding to temperatures of about a million degrees. The image above shows the latest SWAP image, from 30 July.

SWAP images are used to study the origin of solar phenomena, including solar flares and coronal mass ejections – massive eruptions of material into interplanetary space. Both are important sources of space weather, which profoundly affects the environmental conditions in Earth’s magnetosphere, ionosphere and thermosphere.

Space weather is not only of academic interest. In Europe’s economy today, numerous sectors are potentially affected by space weather, ranging from space-based telecommunications, broadcasting, weather services and navigation through to power distribution and terrestrial communications, especially at northern latitudes.

The satellite has been managed since 1 July by ESA’s Space Situational Awareness (SSA) programme, complementing support provided by ESA’s Science directorate for the Proba-2 Science Centre at the Royal Observatory Belgium.

Proba-2 data are used directly by the SSA Space Weather Coordination Centre at SpacePole, Brussels, to generate space weather products and services to a growing number of customers such as satellite operators, telecom and navigation users, and government agencies and research institutes.

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.