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Proba-2 Offers Detailed View Of Massive Solar Eruption

June 10, 2011

ESA’s Proba-2 small Sun-watcher was among the flotilla of satellites on watch as the Sun erupted spectacularly this week.

After years of relative quietness, the Sun is waking up. Tuesday 7 June saw a medium-class M2.5 solar flare, associated with a proton storm, a coronal mass ejection that glanced past Earth on Thursday 9 June and an accompanying burst of radio energy.

ESA’s Proba-2 satellite was launched in November 2009, during the most inactive period of the solar cycle, but now the Sun is growing more active as it progresses towards “Ëœsolar max’, expected in 2013.

Less than a cubic meter in volume, Proba-2 is the smallest member of the class of Sun-monitoring satellites that includes the ESA/NASA SOHO, NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory and STEREO and Japan’s Hinode.

Proba-2′s radiometer measures the energy intensity of the Sun across four separate ultraviolet bands every 50 milliseconds, and observed a spike across its two short-wavelength bands due to the flare.

At the same time, the satellite’s SWAP Sun-imager captured the massive prominence eruption as it occurred, as a mass of high-energy particles and superheated gas rose up from the solar surface.

This gas was relatively cool ““ about 80 000ºC ““ which explains why it appears quite dark at the extreme ultraviolet wavelength of SWAP.

Much of this gas then fell back to the Sun, with dark downflows that brighten as they fall, probably due to localized heating. This darkening actually caused a decrease in the average intensity seen by SWAP.

Proba-2 is a technology demonstration satellite that also houses a quartet of science instruments. The imager and radiometer are operated by the Royal Observatory of Belgium. Two instruments operated by the Czech Astronomical Institute monitor the plasma environment around the satellite, including assessing how the coronal mass ejection affects Earth’s electrically charged ionosphere.

Image 1: 7 June 2011 M2.5-class solar flare observed by Proba-2′s SWAP instrument. This image has been warped to show the event as it might appear to an observer flying just above the surface of the sun. A massive prominence eruption took place, as a mass of high-energy particles and superheated gas rose up from the Sun’s surface. This gas was relatively cool ““ about 80 000 K ““ which explains why it appears quite dark at the extreme ultraviolet wavelength that SWAP observes in.

Image 2: Flying in a 720 km orbit, Proba-2 is the second in ESA’s Project for Onboard Autonomy series, capable of flying itself with minimal support from the ground. Its purpose is flight-test new technologies and it carries a total of 17 technology payloads. It also carries four scientific instruments focused on the Sun and space weather.

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Proba-2 Offers Detailed View Of Massive Solar Eruption


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