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China launches its first solar observation satellite

By ZHAO LEI | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-10-15 07:20

A Long March-2D rocket carrying China's first solar exploration satellite blasts off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in North China's Shanxi province, Oct 14, 2021. [Photo/Xinhua]

After landing probes on the lunar and Martian surfaces, China has begun to set its exploratory sights on the core of our solar system-the sun.

In a landmark step, the country launched its first solar observation satellite on Thursday, aiming to help scientists deepen their knowledge of the dazzling star.

The 508-kilogram Chinese H-Alpha Solar Explorer satellite was launched by a Long March 2D carrier rocket that blasted off at 6:51 pm from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi province and then entered a sun-synchronous orbit about 517 kilometers above Earth, the China National Space Administration said.

It said the mission is expected to provide scientists with the first high-quality observation data of the source area of a solar eruption and will improve China's research capability in solar physics, adding that it is very meaningful to the nation's space exploration and satellite technology.

The administration noted that after rounds of public solicitation and expert reviews, Xihe, the name of the sun goddess in ancient Chinese mythology, had been selected out of more than 10,000 proposals as the spacecraft's code name. The naming symbolizes the nation's aspiration in solar exploration, it explained.

Wang Wei, deputy director of the Shanghai Institute of Satellite Engineering at the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology and project manager of the satellite, said the spacecraft is China's first space-based solar telescope and is designed to work for at least three years.

"Its scientific payload is an H-alpha imaging spectrograph-developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics-that can, for the first time, acquire full-disk spectroscopic solar observations in the H-alpha wave band," Wang said.

"Scientifically speaking, the instrument is able to observe and record changes in the sun's physical elements like its temperature and speed, facilitating scientists' studies about the dynamics and physics during a solar eruption."

Several Chinese satellites, such as the Fengyun 3E meteorological satellite, have carried equipment that can collect solar data, but Xihe is the first dedicated to solar observation.

Zhao Jian, a senior official at the China National Space Administration in charge of the satellite program, said it is important for mankind to study the sun because solar activities have many effects on life on Earth.

"Therefore, obtaining more knowledge about the sun helps to avoid solar activities' adverse effects, especially disruption of the Earth's communications and navigation services, and to better protect spacecraft and astronauts," Zhao said.

Studying the sun also allows scientists to deepen their research on the origin and evolution of celestial magnetic fields, the acceleration and distribution of energetic particles, and other physical phenomena, he said.

"Our country is ranked No 2 in the world in terms of published research papers on solar observations, but all of the satellite-generated data used by our scientists is from foreign spacecraft," Zhao said. "Xihe will put an end to the dependence on foreign satellites and we will share its products with researchers around the world."

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