As Earth and Mars aligned on the opposite sides of the Sun, a team of Indian Scientists used the Mars Orbiter Mission, a.k.a. Mangalyaan, launched over 8 years ago on 5th November 2013, to study the outer atmosphere of the Sun, the Solar Corona.
The Mangalyaan was planned for a mission lifetime of 6 months, although it successfully continues to orbit even now for more than 7 years, in its extended mission phase.
The team of scientists from Space Physics Laboratory of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Trivandrum; Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad; and ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC), Bangalore, used S-band radio signals coming from the MOM to study the Solar Corona.
The nature of the Solar Corona remains a complex mystery. It is found that the inner surface of the Sun is a million times brighter than its outer atmosphere, The Solar Corona, and yet the temperature of the Corona exceeds 2 million Kelvin, while the temperature at the surface simmers at just 6000 Kelvin, only about 1000 miles below the Corona.
The hotter Corona, apart from the surface at around a thousand miles, seems in violation of thermodynamics. Hence, it is being studied for the non-thermal mechanisms to understand how energy from the Sun is being transported and dissipated to the Corona, and the solar winds that originate here.
These winds, though, are a matter of concern for scientists around the world. Why? This phenomenon of solar winds occurs when strong magnetic storms occur on the Sun, and tons of highly energetic charged particles are released into space and form the solar wind. If this sea of charged particles and magnetic fields were to freely hit the Earth, the radiation would cause life threatening damage to our DNA, disrupt communication networks, debilitate power grids and damage electronic devices, including solar channels and communications to astronomers close to the surface.
Although Earth’s magnetic dipole field and magnetosphere shield the Earth by barring these particles and plummeting through the atmosphere, during particularly intense solar storms, the magnetosphere could ‘crack’, allowing charged particles to seep in and wreak havoc on Earth’s technological infrastructure.
Isro said that the radio signals from MOM spacecraft crossing through the solar Corona during the conjunction event experience fluctuations in the phase of radio waves passing through it during the turbulence in the Corona that produces fluctuations in the plasma density.