India set to launch Sun-spotting satellite on Saturday

Meanwhile its Moon rover dodges a crater and spots sulphur

India's Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is already busy running its successful Chandrayaan-3 Moon mission, but still plans to put even more items on its to-do list with the launch of Aditya-L1 – a mission to observe the Sun.

ISRO's plan calls for the probe to launch atop a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle – the craft India uses for commercial satellite launches. Aditya will take around four months to reach a halo orbit around the L1 Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth.

The L1 point is a fine location from which to observe the Sun, which is why NASA's Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Satellite is already there.

Aditya packs seven payloads, and its objectives include:

  • Studying the Sun's upper atmospheric dynamics;
  • Investigating chromospheric and coronal heating, physics of the partially ionized plasma, initiation of the coronal mass ejections, and solar flares;
  • Observing in-situ particle and plasma environments on and around Sol;
  • Gathering data on coronal mass ejections including their temperature, velocity and density, to help develop a better understanding of their origins and behavior;
  • Measuring and mapping the Sun's magnetic field.

All of the above are hoped to contribute to enhancing our understanding of space weather and the solar wind.

If India's latest mission succeeds – and its recent track record suggests the launch has every chance of going off without a hitch – the nation will have launched Mars, Moon, and Sun missions within a handful of years.

Speaking of that Moon mission, ISRO continues to beam back good news from the lunar surface, including a report that the Pragyan rover spotted a crater in its way, then reversed to avoid falling in.

ISRO has also published observations gathered by the rover's Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS), which reportedly found the first signs of sulphur in the region of the Moon's south pole. LIBS also spotted aluminum, calcium, iron, chromium, and titanium. Manganese and silicon have also been spotted, as has oxygen.

Efforts to detect hydrogen have commenced. Previous orbital missions have spotted the element. If Pragyan can confirm its presence, the finding would enhance theories that humanity could one day create rocket fuel on the Moon and use the satellite as a refuelling point for all manner of expeditions.

While India celebrates its successes, and anticipates further triumphs, Japan's space community waits hopefully for upper atmospheric conditions to improve so it can launch the SLIM Moon lander. The launch was slated for August 27, them moved due to high winds on the path of its launch vehicle.

Japan's Space Exploration Agency is yet to advise when its next launch attempt will take place.

One final chunk of Moon news: the world will today be treated to a Blue Supermoon – a second full Moon inside a calendar month that coincides with Luna being closer to Earth than it usually, is thanks to its elliptical orbit. During Supermoons, our sole natural satellite appears to be up to 14 percent larger than average. Luna will orbit within about 357,0000km of Earth on Wednesday. ®

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