Karnataka engineer in ESA's Solar Orbiter mission

Karnataka engineer stars in European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter mission

An engineer from Chikmagalur plays a key role behind a unique probe to look under the “skin of the Sun” on-board European Space Agency's Solar Orbiter mission that is scheduled to be launched on Monday morning.

Sandeep Ramanath is an important member of a team from the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research, Gottingen that developed PHI (Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager), one of the five remote sensing instruments on board the ambitious solar mission.

Armed with sophisticated instruments for imaging the solar surface and measure the star's properties in its vicinity, the ESA and NASA's new mission will be the first one to look at the polar regions of the Sun to help unravel the mysteries associated with the Sun spots.

From its unique elliptical orbit, the probe satellite will view some of the never-seen-before regions of the Sun and shed new light on some of the little-understood aspects of its activity such as the formation of the solar wind.

“The Solar Orbiter will complement the NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, currently in orbit around the Sun,” Ramanath, who is currently at Kennedy Space Centre, Florida for the launch told DH.

The PHI's high-resolution telescope would zoom in on the Sun for a close look. Each pixel in the image would represent a distance of 150 km on the solar surface.

“The instrument (PHI) can not only determine the strength and direction of the magnetic fields in the photosphere. It can also indirectly probe deeper layers. This is because the processes inside the Sun lead to oscillations that show up on the surface and which PHI can measure,” said Ramanath, who completed his engineering at a college in Mysore and masters from France. In 2012, he joined the Max Planck Institute for the PHI project.

In Solar Orbiter, all the instruments are kept behind a 40 cm thick titanium shield that would help keep their temperature below 5o degrees Celsius even though the outer part of the shield will bear the wrath of the giant fireball.

In recent months, the frontiers of solar research have been expanded with three new observation instruments – the Daniel K Inouye Solar Telescope, Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter. Indian Space Research Organisation too would jump on to the bandwagon with its Aditya-L1 mission, which may be launched in next one year.

“The Sun is rising. It is because of our growing understanding that the Sun governs our space environment and affects many of our technologies like telecommunication, GPS navigation, satellite broadcast, high-frequency defence communication and air traffic on polar routes,” said Dibyendu Nandi, a scientist at the Indian Institute for Science, Education and Research, Kolkata, who is not associated with the ESA mission but has a link to the ISRO one.

Ramanath completed his early education from Jagadeeshwara English Medium school and Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya, Balehonnur before staring the college specialising on mechanical engineering.

 

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