Sun under double observation

– Update 29 January 2020 – At the end of January, NASA's space probe "Parker Solar Probe" is approaching the Sun for the fourth time, this time up to a distance of only 28 solar radii. Never before has a spacecraft been so close to our home star. An international project under the auspices of the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) adds ground-based measurements at the same time – enabling completely new insights into solar activity and its effects on Earth.
Sun under double observation

Parker Solar Probe. (Credit: NASA)

Parker Solar Probe was launched in August 2018 and has already approached the Sun three times in its perihelion. This time is extra special: The Sun, the spacecraft and the Earth are aligned, so that the spacecraft can observe the same areas of the Sun as telescopes on Earth. Utilizing this constellation, the AIP observes the Sun from Earth using the radio interferometer LOFAR (LOw Freqency ARray) jointly with the spacecraft's instruments.

The AIP is a member of the International LOFAR Telescope and operates its own LOFAR station in Potsdam-Bornim. Within LOFAR, the AIP leads the key science project "Solar Physics and Space Weather with LOFAR". It involves 30 scientists from 11 European countries. Under the leadership of the AIP, 1064 hours of observations of the Sun using LOFAR were acquired. The solar physicists of the AIP are involved in the international working group "Solar Energetic Particles" of the space mission PSP.

The NASA satellite Parker Solar Probe will be the first space mission to approach the sun up until 10 solar radii, thus providing scientists with new insights into our home star in the next years.

What effect does solar activity have on the immediate surrounding space - and ultimately also on our earth? The space mission Parker Solar Probe will provide answers to these and other questions. They are of fundamental societal interest, as solar activity has a huge impact on our technological capabilities: it may cause interference with GPS navigation and electronic components in airplanes, satellites and hospitals.

With the space satellite, scientists want to examine the outer layer of the solar atmosphere - the corona - and the near-solar interplanetary space. One of them is Prof. Dr. Gottfried Mann. At the AIP he researches, among other things, the sun and space weather. Together with other international scientists, he has secured simultaneous observation time with LOFAR and Parker Solar Probe– a total of 1,064 hours until 2020. "With these ground-based supplementary measurements, LOFAR will provide important data. This will make it possible in unprecedented ways to explore solar activity and its spread from the corona into the interplanetary space," Mann explains.

The International LOFAR Telescope (ILT) is a European joint project under Dutch management with numerous stations in Northern and Western Europe. In the last two years, the ILT has been extended by three stations in Poland and one station in Ireland. Thus, the base length increased to 1,885 km in east-west direction. In north-south direction, the base length is 1,301 km from Onsala in Sweden to Nançay in France. At present, the ILT consists of a central core of 24 stations and 14 further individual stations distributed in the Netherlands as well as an additional 13 international stations in Europe.


LOFAR-Station in Potsdam-Bornim. (Credit: AIP)

Scientific contact at AIP

apl. Prof. Dr. Gottfried Mann, 0331-7499-292,

Media contact

Franziska Gräfe, 0331-7499 803,

Further Information


Parker Solar Probe

Press release NASA


The key areas of research at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam (AIP) 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 has been a member of the Leibniz Association since 1992.