New Delhi: India’s “Celestial Surya Namaskar” is about to reach its climax. India’s first space-based solar observatory — the Aditya-L1 satellite — is going to check-in to the home it is likely to occupy for the next five years. The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) says the satellite will reach its destination orbit on January 6 at 4 pm.

In its 126-day journey that began on September 2 last year, it has traversed about 3.7 million kilometers as it went about a circuitous route to reach its “Karambhoomi” or “land of action”. ISRO says Aditya is healthy and scientific results have already started flowing in as it has beamed back beautiful images of the full disc of the Sun.

Aditya’s home is in a halo-shaped orbit, some 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth. Although closer to the Sun than the Earth, the orbit will still be far, far away, since the Sun is some 150 million kilometers away from us.

From its final vantage point which is called the Lagrangian Point-1, the 1,475 kilogram Aditya-L1 satellite will conduct scientific experiments to better understand the star of our solar system, which remains an enigma.

“The Indian solar observatory will have an uninterrupted and continuous view of the Sun and will help us understand space weather. It will act like a forecasting and warning platform for solar storms,” said Nigar Shaji, the Project Director for Aditya-L1 satellite at the U R Rao Satellite Center, Bengaluru.

A solar storm is a large-scale magnetic eruption on the Sun, which can effect the entire solar system.

“Since Aditya-L1 will look at Sun continuously, it can warn us of imminent solar electro-magnetic effects on Earth and protect our satellites, and other power electrical and communications networks from getting disrupted. This will help continue normal operations by operating them in safe modes, till the solar storm passes by,” S Somanath, Chairman, ISRO, told NDTV, adding that India has assets worth over ₹ 50,000 crores in space including over 50 operational satellites that need to be protected against the effects of the Sun.

“Aditya-L1 satellite will act as a space-based protector of sorts, keeping an eye on solar flares and ensuing solar storms,” he explained.

When a large solar flare comes out of the Sun, it can fry the electronics of the satellites. To protect them, space engineers shutdown the electronics and keep them in safe shutdown state till the highly-charged storm passes over.

“Aditya-L1 is an intelligent satellite. It will never sleep and will keep a hawk’s eye on the activities of Earth’s nearest star to warn when the Sun’s wrath will impact us,” said Prof Somak Raychaudhury, astrophysicist at Ashoka University.

Prof Durgesh Tripathi, a scientist at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, said, “the complex space telescope” is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for scientists.

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Here are the top five things to know about the solar mission:

  1. After a flight duration of 63 minutes and 20 seconds on January 6, the Aditya-L1 spacecraft would have achieved a successful injection into an elliptical orbit measuring 235×19500 km around the Earth.
  2. Aditya-L1 stands as the inaugural Indian space-based observatory designed to examine the Sun from a halo orbit positioned around the first Sun-Earth Lagrangian point (L1), situated approximately 1.5 million km away from Earth. Indian Institute of Astrophysics, Bengaluru Director told The Indian Express, “Aditya L1 will make it to a halo orbit around the L1 point. As the Earth moves around the Sun, the L1 point will also move. So does the halo orbit.”
  3. An ISRO official told The Indian Express that “Aditya L1 has already reached the L1 point and the manoeuvre (on January 6) will put it in the desired orbit. Without getting into the orbit, the spacecraft will continue to travel towards the Sun”.
  4. The Lagrange Point is a unique region where gravitational forces between the Earth and the Sun reach equilibrium. While absolute neutralization is not achievable due to the influence of other celestial bodies such as the Moon, Mars, and Venus, the L1 point provides a stable position for observational purposes.
  5. Aditya-L1 is equipped with seven scientific payloads, all developed indigenously by ISRO and national research laboratories. These payloads are specifically designed to observe the photosphere, chromosphere, and the outermost layers of the Sun (the corona) using electromagnetic particle and magnetic field detectors.