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Astrophysicists among an international group contributing to a new mission that will provide the first images of the uncharted polar regions of the Sun.

14 Feb 2020

The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter spacecraft launched successfully earlier this week to perform close-up observations of the Sun from high-latitudes to better investigate the Sun-Earth connection.

The Trinity team, working with Professor Peter Gallagher from the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS), has played a pivotal role in developing the software that processes and analyses data from Solar Orbiter. The teams primary role is with the Spectrometer / Telescope for Imaging X-rays (STIX) which will provide X-ray spectra and images in the 4-150 keV range at a cadence of 1 second. These images and spectra will allow crucial connections between the accelerated elections observed on the Sun and those measures in-situ at the spacecraft to be made.

Dr Shane Maloney, research fellow in Trinity’s School of Physics, said: “Our involvement is primarily in developing software for the Spectrometer / Telescope for Imaging X-rays (STIX) instrument, which is on board Solar Orbiter. In particular, we are working on the ground software that will process the data from the spacecraft, and providing the analysis software that we and the other scientists will subsequently use to analyse the STIX data. We will also be involved in commission and calibration activities, which are scheduled to begin very soon, in late March.” “It is fantastic for us to be involved in the Solar Orbiter mission, which aims to make significant breakthroughs in our understanding both of how the Sun’s heliosphere works, and of the effects of solar activity on it.”

Ireland’s membership of the ESA, funded by the Government through the Department of Business, Enterprise & Innovation, enables Irish industry and research institutes to participate in the development of technologies for ESA science missions such as Solar Orbiter. A number of organisations and companies are contributing to the current mission.