Closer to the Sun than ever

5 October 2011. Scientists in Potsdam are preparing for the start of ESA’s “Solar Orbiter” mission
Closer to the Sun than ever

Solar Flare (Credits: NASA SDO)

On 4 October 2011 the European Space Agency (ESA) has selected the Solar Orbiter mission for implementation. This spacecraft will investigate how the Sun influences its environment with the launch date planned for 2017. The Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) contributes with instrumentation for this mission.


AIP scientists and engineers are designing the imager, a 55 cm long telescope tube, for the remote sensing X-ray telescope STIX (“Spectrometer/Telescope for Imaging X-rays”). STIX is built by a collaboration of institutes from France, Poland, Czech Republic, Ireland, Austria, and Italy, led by Switzerland. The AIP is the only German institute in the STIX team.


Solar Orbiter will approach and revolve around the Sun at a distance of only a quarter of our Earth’s orbit. It will commence data acquisition after a three years cruise phase. This mission will enable the scientists for the first time to co-rotate with the Sun and observe the same spot for an extended period of time. These observations will lead to a deeper understanding of the evolution of sunspots, solar flares and the solar magnetic field.


The solar physicists at AIP are interested particularly in energetic particles that are released during solar flares. Therefore, in collaboration with the Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel, AIP builds electronic components for the particle detector suite EPD (Energetic Particle Detector). The solar wind, solar flares and coronal mass ejections are parts of space weather, which has an important impact on Earth, our climate, and our technologically advanced civilization.


Equipped with numerous instruments, from a very close and unique perspective, Solar Orbiter will try to answer many of the still open questions of solar physics. Indeed, Solar Orbiter is expected to open a new chapter in solar science.


Images and Video

Image #1: An image of the Sun taken by SDO on October 4, 2011. The fine structures visible in the million degree Celsius corona are formed by constantly changing magnetic field lines (Credits: NASA SDO) -


Image #2: A moderately strong flare observed on September 25, 2011. A plasma cloud had been ejected into space but a big fraction of it fell back to the Sun (Credits: NASA SDO) -


Image #3: The X-ray telescope STIX consists of a telescope tube and the detector electronics module behind it. The fine tungsten grids provide high energy and angular resolution.



Science Contact:

Prof. Dr. Gottfried Mann (PI)
Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP)
Tel. +49-331-7499-292


Dr. Hakan Önel
Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP)
Tel. +49-331-7499-261


Press Contact:

Dr. Gabriele Schönherr, Tel.: +49-331-7499-383

Kerstin Mork, Tel.: +49-331-7499-469

Leibniz-Institut für Astrophysik Potsdam (AIP)




The key topics of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics are cosmic magnetic fields and extragalactic astrophysics. A considerable part of the institute's efforts aim at the development of research technology in the fields of spectroscopy, robotic telescopes, and e-science. The AIP is the successor of the Berlin Observatory founded in 1700 and of the Astrophysical Observatory of Potsdam founded in 1874. The latter was the world's first observatory to emphasize explicitly the research area of astrophysics.The AIP is a foundation according to civil law and is a member of the Leibniz Association. The Leibniz Association is a network of 87 independent research institutes and scientific service facilities, which strive for scientific solutions for major social challenges.