Aditya-L1: India's solar mission sends first photos on way to Sun

A photo of the Earth and the Moon taken by Aditya-L1
One photograph shows the Earth and the Moon in a single frame

The Indian space agency Isro has shared the first images sent by the country's solar observation mission as it makes its way towards the Sun.

Aditya-L1 lifted off on Saturday and is on a journey that will take it 1.5 million km (932,000 miles) from the Earth - 1% of the Earth-Sun distance.

It will take four months to reach its destination, Isro says.

India's maiden solar mission came just days after the country became the first to land near the Moon's south pole.

On Thursday morning, Isro shared two photographs taken on 4 September by a camera mounted on Aditya-L1.

One of the images shows the Earth and the Moon in one frame - while the Earth looms large, the Moon is a tiny speck in the distance. The second photograph is a "selfie" that shows two of the seven scientific instruments the solar mission is carrying.

India's first space-based mission to study the solar system's biggest object is named after Surya - the Hindu god of Sun who is also known as Aditya.

And L1 stands for Lagrange point 1 - the exact place between the Sun and Earth where the Indian spacecraft is heading.

According to the European Space Agency, a Lagrange point is a spot where the gravitational forces of two large objects - such as the Sun and the Earth - cancel each other out, allowing a spacecraft to "hover".

Once Aditya-L1 reaches this "parking spot", it would be able to orbit the Sun at the same rate as the Earth. This means the satellite will require very little fuel to operate.

A selfie taken by Aditya-L1
A "selfie" taken by Aditya-L1 shows two of the scientific instruments the solar mission is carrying

Since its launch on Saturday, Aditya-L1 has already completed two manoeuvres around the Earth. After going around the Earth three more times, it will be launched towards L1.

From this vantage position, it will be able to watch the Sun constantly and carry out scientific studies.

Isro has not said how much the mission would cost, but reports in the Indian press put it at 3.78bn rupees ($46m; £36m).

Aditya-L1's trajectory
Aditya-L1's trajectory

The orbiter carries seven scientific instruments that will observe and study the solar corona (the outermost layer); the photosphere (the Sun's surface or the part we see from the Earth) and the chromosphere (a thin layer of plasma that lies between the photosphere and the corona).

The studies will help scientists understand solar activity, such as the solar wind and solar flares, and their effect on Earth and near-space weather in real time.

Scientists say Aditya will help us better understand the star on which our lives depend.

If Aditya-L1 is successful, India will join the select group of countries that are already studying the Sun.

US space agency Nasa has been watching the Sun since the 1960s; Japan launched its first mission in 1981 to study solar flares and the European Space Agency (ESA) has been observing the Sun since the 1990s.

In February 2020, Nasa and ESA jointly launched a Solar Orbiter that is studying the Sun from close quarters and gathering data that, scientists say, will help understand what drives its dynamic behaviour.

And in 2021, Nasa's newest spacecraft Parker Solar Probe made history by becoming the first to fly through the corona, the outer atmosphere of the Sun.

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