Isro, the Indian space agency, broadcasted the first pictures from Aditya-L1, the country’s solar observation mission, as the spacecraft embarks on its voyage towards the Sun. The mission was initiated on Saturday and the spacecraft will travel 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth, which is 1% of the distance between the Earth and the Sun. The spacecraft will reach its destination in approximately four months, according to Isro.
The release of these images comes on the heels of India’s unprecedented landing near the Moon’s south pole. On Thursday morning, Isro released two images taken on September 4 by a camera mounted on Aditya-L1. The first image displays both the Earth and the Moon in the same frame, with the latter appearing as a tiny speck in the distance. The second image is a self-portrait showcasing two of the seven scientific instruments carried by the solar mission.
— ISRO (@isro) September 7, 2023
Aditya-L1, named after the Hindu sun deity Surya, is India’s maiden space-based endeavour to study the largest celestial body in our solar system. The “L1” refers to the Lagrange point 1, the precise location between the Sun and Earth that the spacecraft is targeting. As per the European Space Agency, a Lagrange point is a location where the gravitational forces of two large bodies, such as the Sun and the Earth, nullify each other, allowing a spacecraft to remain stationary.
Once Aditya-L1 reaches this “parking spot”, it will be capable of orbiting the Sun at the same speed as the Earth, requiring minimal fuel for operation. Since its launch on Saturday, Aditya-L1 has performed two manoeuvres around the Earth. After completing three more orbits of the Earth, it will set course for L1. From this advantageous position, it will continuously monitor the Sun and perform scientific studies.
While Isro has not disclosed the mission’s cost, Indian press reports estimate it at 3.78 billion rupees (approx. US$46m or £36m). The orbiter is equipped with seven scientific instruments designed to observe and study the solar corona (the outermost layer), the photosphere (the visible surface of the Sun), and the chromosphere (a thin layer of plasma between the photosphere and the corona). These studies will enable scientists to comprehend solar activity, such as solar wind and solar flares, and their impact on Earth and near-space weather in real time.
The success of Aditya-L1 will place India among a select group of countries that are currently studying the Sun. The US space agency Nasa has been observing the Sun since the 1960s. Japan launched its first mission in 1981 to study solar flares. The European Space Agency (ESA) has been monitoring the Sun since the 1990s. In February 2020, Nasa and ESA launched a joint Solar Orbiter to study the Sun from close quarters and collect data to understand its dynamic behaviour. In 2021, Nasa’s newest spacecraft, the Parker Solar Probe, made history by becoming the first to fly through the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona.