India celebrated the successful launch of its first solar observation mission, Aditya-L1 on Saturday. The event took place at the Sriharikota spaceport at 11:50 AM local time.

Aditya-L1, named after Surya, the Hindu god of the Sun, is set to journey into the depths of our solar system. The spacecraft is destined for Lagrange point 1 (L1), a unique location between the Earth and the Sun where gravitational forces balance, allowing it to orbit the Sun in sync with Earth’s orbit.

The mission aims to position Aditya-L1 approximately 1.5 million kilometres (932,000 miles) away from Earth, which represents 1% of the Earth-Sun distance. It is projected to take four months for the spacecraft to reach this pivotal point, where it will serve as a stationary vantage point for studying the Sun’s activities in unprecedented detail.

Lagrange points, like L1, hold significance in space exploration. These are locations where the gravitational influences of two massive celestial bodies balance perfectly. This equilibrium makes L1 an ideal position for a spacecraft to remain stationary in relation to Earth and the Sun. It will reduce the need for fuel consumption during its mission.

Researchers anticipate that this vantage point will facilitate insights into solar phenomena and provide data to understand the Sun’s behaviour.

After one hour and four minutes of flight time, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) officially declared the mission a success, setting the stage for Aditya-L1’s 135-day journey to its destination.

ISRO chief Sreedhara Panicker Somanath expressed his good wishes for the spacecraft as it embarks on this pioneering voyage into the solar frontier. Project Director Nigar Shaji emphasised the global significance of the Aditya-L1 solar observation mission.

Before reaching its final destination at Lagrange Point 1 (L1), Aditya-L1 will perform multiple orbits around Earth. Once positioned at L1, the spacecraft will have an uninterrupted view of the Sun, even during solar eclipses, enabling continuous scientific research and observations.

Aditya-L1 is equipped with seven state-of-the-art scientific instruments designed to observe and study various aspects of the Sun, including the solar Corona (the outermost layer), the photosphere (the visible surface of the Sun from Earth), and the chromosphere (a thin plasma layer between the photosphere and the Corona). These instruments provide insights into solar activities, including solar wind and solar flares.

The cost of the Aditya-L1 mission has not been officially disclosed by ISRO. Indian media estimates it at approximately INR 3.78 billion.

According to former ISRO scientist Mylswamy Annadurai, the Sun continually impacts Earth’s weather and space conditions through various means, including radiation, heat, particle flows, and magnetic fields. Understanding these dynamics is critical for Earth and space science.

One significant consequence of space weather is its impact on satellite functionality. Solar winds and storms can disrupt satellite electronics and even affect power grids on Earth. Annadurai pointed out that there are still gaps in our understanding of space weather.

India currently boasts more than 50 operational satellites in orbit, providing services like communication links, weather data, and assistance in predicting pest infestations, droughts, and disasters. According to the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), there are approximately 10,290 satellites orbiting Earth.

Aditya-L1’s mission can improve the comprehension of the Sun’s activities and provide early warnings about solar events. This knowledge will empower satellite operators to manoeuvre their assets out of harm’s way when solar disturbances are anticipated.

If the Aditya-L1 mission succeeds in its objectives, India will join a select group of countries actively studying the Sun. Japan led the way in 1981 with its solar mission focused on studying solar flares. Furthermore, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have conducted solar observations since the 1990s.

In February 2020, NASA and ESA launched the Solar Orbiter, which studies the Sun from close proximity, collecting data that contributes to a better understanding of its dynamic behaviour. In 2021, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe achieved a milestone by becoming the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun’s Corona, the outermost layer of its atmosphere.

India’s solar observation mission comes on the heels of another achievement: the successful landing of the Chandrayaan-3 probe near the lunar south pole. This accomplishment made India the fourth country in the world, after the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China, to achieve a soft landing on the Moon.