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Happy 1st Solar Orbiter launch anniversary!

February 10, 2021

ESA’s new Sun exploring spacecraft Solar Orbiter launched atop the US Atlas V 411 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 04:03 GMT (05:03 CET) on 10 February 2020 (credits: ESA - S. Corvaja).

Parker Solar Probe and Metis/Solar Orbiter first quadrature

January 20, 2021

On January 18, 2021, Solar Orbiter and Parker Solar Probe (PSP) were for the first time in a special orbital configuration, that is, in quadrature. At this time when travelling along its orbit very close to the Sun, PSP has been crossing the atmosphere of the Sun at a distance just above 20 solar radii.

Because of the continuous expansion of the solar corona, the plasma crossed by PSP, which is moving outward at a speed above 100 km/s on the solar equatorial plane, is the same plasma observed with the Metis coronagraph just a few hours earlier at a distance of 3-7 solar radii from the solar limb. It is, thus, the first time that the expanding coronal plasma – that is, the solar wind – fully characterized by observations remotely performed with Metis, encounters almost immediately in its way outward a suite of in-situ instruments that can directly measure its physical properties. Data analysis is on-going.

Artist's representation of the PSP and Solar Orpiter quadrature.

Solar Orbiter first-light press release

July 16, 2020

The Metis coronagraph on ESA’s Solar Orbiter scored a couple of ‘world firsts’ with its first light image. Metis’ first light images, taken on 15 May 2020, and displayed below in the left hand column, are the first simultaneous images of the corona taken in both visible light (580-640 nm) and ultraviolet light (UV, 121.6 nm).

The visible light image (shown in green) clearly shows the two bright equatorial streamers and fainter polar regions, which are characteristic of the solar corona during times of minimal magnetic activity. The ultraviolet image (shown in purple) records emission from neutral hydrogen atoms in the corona. This is the first UV image of the extended solar corona ever obtained. When Metis took these images, Solar Orbiter was at a distance of 0.6 Astronomical Units (AU; one AU is equivalent to the average distance from Earth to the Sun, about 150 million kilometres) from the Sun and the instrument field of view covered heights from 3.8 to 7.0 times the solar radius from the Sun’s centre.

Metis also captured simultaneously visible and UV images on 21 June 2020, soon after Solar Orbiter’s first perihelion (approaching the Sun from 0.52 AU on 15 June). These are shown in the right hand column. The instrument field-of-view covers heights from 3.2 to 5.8 times the solar radius from the Sun’s centre. Already at this distance, the spatial resolution of these images is comparable or better than any coronagraph on ground or in space. Better resolution in visible light can only be achieved during the few minutes of the natural total eclipse of the Sun, while the UV images have no match. During its nominal mission, Solar Orbiter will venture much closer to the Sun (up to 0.28 AU), providing even more detailed images.

Metis Internal Occulter repointing

May 15, 2020

The internal occulter has been repositioned, by means of a ticklish step-by-step procedure when for each position of the internal occulter mechanism, a visible light image was sent to ground and inspected.

Thanks to all Metis Team that is supporting the calibration activities!

Even though perfomed remotely because of Covid-19 pandemic restrictions, the activity was successful and the first images in both visible light and UV were acquired that show no evident stray-light contamination.

Metis UV first light

April 23, 2020

Today the commissioning of the Metis UV detector was completed, and the first UV images with door open were taken.

UV image acquired on April 23, 2020.

They clearly show Lyman-α emission in the equatorial corona from 4.7 to 8.5 solar radii from Sun's center (this is the present Metis field of view).

We are looking forward to getting even better images when the position of the internal occulter will be optimized in the upcoming commissioning activities”, Marco Romoli (Metis PI) says.

Metis cap successfully ejected and visible-light first images

March 13, 2020

Metis door was successfully opened today and the Metis cap ejected out across the solar system.

The first images taken with the visible-light channel and the door open are being analysed. A preliminary inspection of the images, suggests that there is a small displacement of the internal occulter from its nominal position (the position achieved during on ground calibration). From ground testing, we are confident that this kind of displacement can be corrected.

It will be fixed in one of the next commissioning activities, where we will be able to see the solar corona and say hopefully goodbye to the coronavirus!

Metis switch-on

February 27, 2020

Despite the spreading of Covid-19 pandemic, that decimated the fierce Metis Team in Darmstadt, today Metis was successfully switched on and underwent a flawless SFT (Short Functional Test) before being turned off.

Thermal interfaces work fine and the whole optical units is around 0° Celsius.

Solar Orbiter successfully launched

February 10, 2020

ESA's Solar Orbiter mission lifted off on an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida (USA), at 05:03 CET on Monday, February 10th. At 06:24 CET, mission controllers at the European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, received a signal from the spacecraft indicating that its solar panels had successfully deployed.

Launch of the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter mission from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on February 10, 2020. Credits: Jared Frankle, NASA Solar Orbiter Social Participant

Solar Orbiter is now on a unique trajectory towards the inner solar system. Over the next days, the spacecraft will deploy its instrument boom and antennas that will allow it to communicate with Earth. Then, it will spend about three months in a commissioning phase, during which several checks will be run on the spacecraft's scientific payload to ensure its 10 instruments are working properly.

It will take Solar Orbiter about two years to reach its operational orbit around the Sun, where it will capture unprecedented images of our star's poles. This journey includes 22 close approaches to the Sun, bringing the spacecraft at one third of the Sun-Earth distance, within the orbit of Mercury, to study the Sun and its influence on the heliosphere.


Announcement of the Solar Orbiter InfoDay

November 15, 2019

In preparation for launch and the subsequent start of the Solar Orbiter science operations, the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA) is organizing a one-day meeting, the “Solar Obiter InfoDay”, to present in detail the mission to the community.

The meeting will be held on December 2nd, 2019, at the ASI headquarter in Tor Vergata, Rome.

After an overview of the general aspects and instruments, the Italian contributions, data products, and data policy, an open discussion to foster new collaborations and synergies is foreseen. Members of the scientific community interested in the Solar Orbiter science are warmly invited.

Further information for registration and logistics can be found at the following link.

The Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) headquarter in Tor Vergata, Rome

Solar Orbiter is now in Cape Canaveral after it had completed its test campaign

November 2, 2019

The 18th of October, ESA’s Solar Orbiter was on display for the final time in Europe, at the IABG test centre near Munich, Germany. Scientists and journalists greeted the probe in the same day, finally ready for its journey to Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA. The spacecraft was built at Airbus Stevenage, UK, and has spent the last year at IABG undergoing essential testing such as checking deployment mechanisms, and that it can withstand the vibrations of launch, and the thermal extremes and vacuum of space.

The Solar Orbiter spacecraft on show at the IABG (Munich, Germany) after it has finished its test campaign in preparation to the launch

Group photo of the principal and co-principal investigators of the Solar Orbiter spacecraft instruments

On November 1st, Solar Orbiter travelled on an Antonov cargo plane to reach the Kennedy Space Center in Florida from where it will be launched on a NASA-provided Atlas V 411. The launch is currently scheduled in the late hours (local time) of February 5th, 2020.

Once in space, and over the course of several years, Solar Orbiter will use the gravity of Venus and Earth to raise its orbit above the poles of the Sun, providing new perspectives on our star, including the first images of the Sun’s polar regions. Its complementary suite of instruments means it will be able to study the plasma environment locally around the spacecraft, and collect data from the Sun from afar, connecting the dots between the Sun’s activity, and the space environment in the inner Solar System.

Metis cap ejection test and door mechanism functional test

August 1-2, 2019

On August 1 and 2, the Metis cap ejection test was performed in conjunction with the external door mechanism functional test. Metis cap ejection is triggered mechanically by the opening of the external door. Sener (Spain) designed and built the door mechanisms for all the instruments, and the Metis cap.

The test was carried on in the Halle B cleanroom facility of IABG in Munich. Door opening and cap ejection were performed at the end of the activities on August 1.

Due to the high demanding requirements on particle cleanliness (no particles must be present with size above 100 μm), in the early morning of August 2, that allowed the settling of particles inside the clean room, the inner protective cap was removed, leaving Metis open for about 10 minutes, allowing inspection and cleaning in visible and UV light. Afterwards the ejectable cap was re-assembled and the door successfully closed.

This is the last mechanical test on the instrument before launch.

7th Metis workshop announcement

July 15, 2019

View of Palazzo del Bo in Padua (Italy), where the 7th Metis workshop will be held

On 11-13 November 2019, Padua (Italy) and its historical University will host the 7th Metis Workshop.

At a few months from the Solar Orbiter launch, this will be the best opportunity to meet and discuss about Metis science perspectives, in an environment full of art, science, and history.

The workshop will be devoted to a detailed introduction of Metis to the solar and the heliospheric community, in order to define the scientific planning strategy and to propose science with Metis and the Solar Orbiter, in synergy with other current and planned space missions, such as PSP, PROBA-3, Bepi Colombo, and ground based instrumentation.

Further information can be found on the workshop webpage.


Metis cap mechanism successfully integrated

October 29, 2018

The Metis cap release mechanism has been installed today. The cap is designed to prevent the deposition of dust particles on the IEO (Inverted External Occulter) edge and inside the instrument, during on-ground integration and test activities and during launch and early orbit phase.

The sealing cap ejection system is a one-shot mechanism planned for use at the very beginning of the mission, after the outgassing of the instrument. Afterwards, the Metis aperture will remain open; direct Sun-disk light protection will be provided when needed by closing the Solar Orbiter external door.

The Metis cap before integration of the door mechanism

Installation of the Solar Orbiter heat shield on the Solar Orbiter spacecraft

October 24, 2018

The Solar Orbiter heat shield before integration in the spacecraft

The heat shield has been installed successfully on the Solar Orbiter spacecraft, on October 24, 2018. This high-tech system, which is composed of several layers of titanium and an outer covering with a protective film developed specifically for Solar Orbiter, “Solar Black”, will guarantee the safety of the spacecraft instruments. The “sliding doors” on the heat shield will further protect the instrument entrance windows and optical elements.

“This is another big step in Solar Orbiter way to launch!” says Sandie Deslous, Airbus Stevenage (UK).

Solar Orbiter shipped to IABG in Germany for the final tests

September 18, 2018

“It's taken a little longer than expected but the Solar Orbiter probe is built and ready to begin testing. UK engineers are putting the finishing touches to the satellite this week before sending it to Germany to begin a year-long test campaign. Such attention to detail is necessary because of the punishing conditions the spacecraft will experience when studying our star's inner workings.”

Read the complete article on the BBC webpage and the interview to the Metis Co-I Vincenzo Andretta (INAF – Astronomical Observatory of Capodimonte, Naples) on Media INAF.

The convoy carrying Solar Orbiter, upon arrival at the IABG in Ottobrunn, Munich (DE)

6th Metis workshop announcement

September 14, 2018

After successful integration in the spacecraft, Metis is now undergoing spacecraft environmental tests. All activities are in line with the planned Solar Orbiter launch in February 2020 and with the start of its nominal mission at the end of 2021. Scientific planning of the mission is now becoming more detailed.

The 6th Metis Workshop will be devoted to a detailed introduction to Metis for all the potential users of the instrument and of Solar Orbiter, in order to define the scientific planning strategy and to propose science with Metis and other space and ground instrumentation. Half day will focus on science and a poster session is foreseen.

The meeting will be held at the Max Planck Institut für Sonnenforschung in Göttingen from 21 to 23 November, 2018, starting in the afternoon of 21st and ending in the morning of 23rd. For further information about the workshop and the meeting venue, please visit the workshop webpage.

The Max Planck Institut für Sonnenforschung in Göttingen (Germany), where the 6th Metis workshop will be held

Solar Probe on its way to the Sun

August 13, 2018

Eugene N. Parker, the ‘father’ of the solar wind, with Marco Velli, Parker Solar Probe Scientist and Metis Co-I, during the Probe launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida

Parker Solar Probe has successfully initiated its fantastic journey to touch the Sun. In synergy with the Parker Probe, designed to explore on the ecliptic plane the innermost heliosphere and cross the solar corona itself in its journey around the Sun, Solar Orbiter, to be launched on February 2020, will explore the out of ecliptic heliosphere close to the Sun.

Metis has the capability, when allowed by the geometry of the orbits of the two spacecrafts, to image light the coronal regions crossed by the Parker Probe during its transit in the solar corona, thus measuring the overall properties of the plasma environment sampled locally by the Probe.

Panel mating onto the Solar Orbiter spacecraft

July 18, 2018

Last picture of Metis before panel mating onto the Solar Orbiter spacecraft at Airbus Defence & Space, Stevenage, UK. In order to preserve the high cleanliness standard of the instrument, the telescope entrance aperture is protected by a MLI (Multi-Layer Insulation) blanket, that will be removed afterwards.

“We will not see Metis anymore, but it will certainly show in space what it is capable to do!” says Marco Romoli, the Metis PI.

Last picture of Metis

Solar Orbiter without heat shield seen from the -Y face, the face in the direction of motion. Metis boom appears on top of the spacecraft


Ejectable cap installation on Metis

November 3, 2017

Metis ejectable cap

ISO 5 cabin used during the installation of the Metis cap at Airbus Defence & Space, Stevenage (UK)

On November 3rd at Airbus Defence & Space, Stevenage (UK), the Metis ejectable cap was successfully installed on the external occulter aperture of Metis, replacing the temporary cap that was protecting the entrance aperture of the telescope from particulate and molecular contamination.

The protective cap, designed and manufactured at Sener, Bilbao, will be ejected to space shortly after the spacecraft launch. The installation was performed in an ISO 5 specially built cabin with the participation of TAS-I cleanliness expert, Metis PI, and Sener mechanical expert.