SPIDER in the News

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SPIDER in the News

Europlanet’s SPIDER (Sun Planet Interactions Digital Environment on Request) virtual access service has been in the news recently in two studies using data from ESA missions at Venus and Mars.

SPIDER provides services and databases to support researchers modelling planetary environments and solar wind interactions.

A paper published in Nature Communications, led by Dr Moa Persson of the University of Tokyo describes how the convergence of BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter at Venus in August 2021 has given a unique insight into how the planet is able to retain its thick atmosphere without the protection of a global magnetic field. 

In this video, Moa explains how SPIDER has been used to support observations by BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter of Venus’s induced magnetosphere and magnetosheath. 

Co-author of the study, Sae Aizawa of ISAS/JAXA, explains how the solar wind interacts with magnetic fields and atmospheres at different planets in our Solar System.

Back in December, a second paper led by Yoshifumi Futaana of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, showed how background radiation counts detected by ESA’s long-serving twin missions, Mars Express and Venus Express, revealed the relationship between intensity of high-energy cosmic rays and the influence of the Sun’s activity across our inner Solar System. The databases of the background radiation counts extracted for the study ere published and can be accessed through SPIDER. In this video, he explains more about his approach to his reasearch.

BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter compare notes at Venus

BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter compare notes at Venus 

Europlanet 2024 RI/ISAS/JAXA Press Release
Thursday, 26 January 2023

The convergence of two spacecraft at Venus in August 2021 has given a unique insight into how the planet is able to retain its thick atmosphere without the protection of a global magnetic field. 

The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission, enroute to study Mercury, and the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter, which is observing the Sun from different perspectives, are both using a number of gravity-assists from Venus to change their trajectories and guide them on their way.  On 9-10 August 2021, the missions flew past Venus within a day of each other, sending back observations synergistically captured from eight sensors and two vantage points in space. The results have been published in Nature Communications.

Unlike Earth, Venus does not generate an intrinsic magnetic field in its core. Nonetheless, a weak, comet-shaped ‘induced magnetosphere’ is created around the planet by the interaction of the solar wind – a stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun – with electrically charged particles in Venus’s upper atmosphere. Around this magnetic bubble, the solar wind is slowed, heated and deflected like the wake of a boat in a region called ‘magnetosheath’.

During the flyby, BepiColombo swooped along the long tail of the magnetosheath and emerged through the blunt nose of the magnetic regions closest to the Sun. Meanwhile, Solar Orbiter captured a peaceful solar wind from its location upfront of Venus.

“These dual sets of observations are particularly valuable because the solar wind conditions experienced by Solar Orbiter were very stable. This meant that BepiColombo had a perfect view of the different regions within the magnetosheath and magnetosphere, undisturbed by fluctuations from solar activity,” said lead-author Moa Persson of the University of Tokyo in Kashiwa, Japan, who was funded to carry out the study by the European Commission through the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) project.

BepiColombo’s flyby was a rare opportunity to investigate the ‘stagnation region’, an area at the nose of the magnetosphere where some of the largest effects of the interaction between Venus and the solar wind are observed. The data gathered gave the first experimental evidence that charged particles in this region are slowed significantly by the interactions between the solar wind and Venus, and that the zone extends to an unexpectedly large distance of 1,900 kilometres above the planet’s surface.

The observations also showed that the induced magnetosphere provides a stable barrier that protects the atmosphere of Venus from being eroded by the solar wind. This protection remains robust even during solar minimum, when lower ultraviolet emissions from the Sun reduce the strength of the currents that generate the induced magnetosphere. The finding, which is contrary to previous predictions, sheds new light on the connection between magnetic fields and atmospheric loss due to the solar wind.

‘The effectiveness of an induced magnetosphere in helping a planet retain its atmosphere has implications for understanding the habitability of exoplanets without internally-generated magnetic fields,” said co-author Sae Aizawa of JAXA’s Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS).

BepiColombo comprises a pair of spacecraft, Mio, the JAXA-led Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, and MPO, the ESA-led Mercury Planetary Orbiter, which have been stacked together for the journey to Mercury. The study combined data from Mio’s four particle sensors, the magnetometer and another particle instrument on MPO, and the magnetometer and solar wind analyser on Solar Orbiter. Europlanet’s SPIDER space weather modelling tools enabled the researchers to track in detail how features in the solar wind observed by Solar Orbiter were affected as they propagated towards BepiColombo through the venusian magnetosheath.

“The important results of this study demonstrate how turning sensors on during planetary flybys and cruise phases can lead to unique science,” said co-author Nicolas Andre, the coordinator of the Europlanet SPIDER service at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP) in Toulouse, France.

Publication details:

Persson et al. BepiColombo mission confirms stagnation region of Venus and reveals its large extent. Nature Communications vol 13, 7743 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-022-35061-3 

Further information

Science and Housekeeping data for the study were obtained from eight sensors on three spacecraft:

  • Mio
    • Mercury Electron Analyzer (MEA)
    • Mercury Ion Analyzer (MIA)
    • Mass Spectrum Analyzer (MSA) 
    • Energetic Neutral Atom (ENA)
  • MPO 
    • Magnetometer (MAG)
    • Miniature Ion Precipitation Analyzer (MIPA) 
  • Solar Orbiter 
    • Magnetometer (MAG)
    • Proton Alpha Spectrometer (PAS)

Image

The convergence of BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter spacecraft at Venus in August 2021 was a rare opportunity to investigate the ‘stagnation region’, an area of the venusian magnetosphere where some of the largest effects of the interaction between Venus and the solar wind are observed. Credit: CC BY-Nc-SA 4.0 – Thibaut Roger/Europlanet 2024 RI

The convergence of BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter spacecraft at Venus in August 2021 was a rare opportunity to investigate the ‘stagnation region’, an area of the venusian magnetosphere where some of the largest effects of the interaction between Venus and the solar wind are observed.

Download full resolution image as JPG, PNG or PDF.

Video

Dr Moa Persson describes the observations by BepiColombo and Solar Orbiter of Venus’s induced magnetosphere and magnetosheath.

Dr Sae Aizawa explains how the solar wind interacts with magnetic fields and atmospheres at different planets in our Solar System.

Science Contacts

Dr Moa Persson
The University of Tokyo
Kashiwa
Japan
moa.persson@irap.omp.eu

Dr Sae Aizawa
Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS)
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
Sagamihara
Japan
sae.aizawa@irap.omp.eu

Dr Go Murakami
Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS)
Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)
Sagamihara
Japan
go@stp.isas.jaxa.jp

Dr Nicolas André
Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP)
Toulouse
France
Nicolas.andre@irap.omp.eu

Media Contacts

Anita Heward
Press Officer
Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI)
+44 7756 034243
aheward@europlanet-society.org

Further Information

About ISAS/JAXA

In October 2003, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) was established as an independent administrative institution, integrating the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA) and the National Aerospace Laboratory of Japan (NAL). ISAS became one of four principal sections within the newly established organization. Its mission is to advance space science – scientific research conducted in outer space – in Japan, mainly by collaboration with universities. It also actively contributes to JAXA’s and Japan’s entire space development. 

ISAS’s new efforts and results in space science are published in Japan and shared with the international community, thus promoting JAXA’s status and enhancing Japan’s intellectual reputation in the world.

Web: https://www.isas.jaxa.jp/en/

Twitter: @ISAS_JAXA_EN

About Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. The project builds on a €2 million Framework 6 Coordination Action (EuroPlaNet), a €6 million Framework 7 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet RI) and a €10 million Horizon 2020 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet 2020 RI) funded by the European Commission. 

The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Society’s aims are:

  • To expand and support a diverse and inclusive planetary community across Europe through the activities of its 10 Regional Hubs
  • To build the profile of the sector through outreach, education and policy activities
  • To underpin the key role Europe plays in planetary science through developing links at a national and international level. 

Europlanet 2024 RI project website: www.europlanet-2024-ri.eu

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org   

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia

Cosmic Ray Counts Hidden in Spacecraft Data Highlight Influence of Solar Cycle at Mars and Venus

Cosmic Ray Counts Hidden in Spacecraft Data Highlight Influence of Solar Cycle at Mars and Venus

Europlanet and Swedish Institute of Space Physics Joint Press Release

EMBARGOED for 11:00 UTC / noon CET on Monday, 5 December 2022

Measurements by ESA’s long-serving twin missions, Mars Express and Venus Express, have captured the dance between the intensity of high-energy cosmic rays and the influence of the Sun’s activity across our inner Solar System. 

A comparison of data from the ASPERA plasma sensor, an instrument carried by both spacecraft, with the number of sunspots visible on the surface of the Sun shows how cosmic ray counts are suppressed during peaks of activity in the 11-year solar cycle. The international study, led by Dr Yoshifumi Futaana of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics, has been published today in the Astrophysical Journal.

Cosmic rays are particles travelling at almost the speed of light that originate outside our Solar System. They are a dangerous form of high energy radiation that can cause electronic failures in spacecraft and damage the DNA of humans in space.

As well as the decadal-long relationship with the solar cycle, the researchers also looked at how cosmic ray detections varied over the short timescales of an orbit. Surprisingly, they found that the area protected from cosmic rays behind Mars is more than 100 kilometres wider than the planet’s actual radius. The cause of why this blocked area should be so large is not yet clear.

“The study shows the range of valuable insights that can be derived from what is actually background count information collected by the ASPERA instruments. Understanding the various relationships between cosmic rays and the solar cycle, the atmospheres of planets and the performance of spacecraft instrumentation is very important for future robotic missions and human exploration,” said Dr Futaana.

Launched in 2003, Mars Express remains in service around the Red Planet, while Venus Express operated from 2006 until 2014. The researchers compared the 17-year dataset from Mars and eight-year dataset from Venus with Earth-based cosmic ray measurements from the Thule neutron monitor in Greenland. Scientists took median value of cosmic ray counts over three-month periods to minimise the influence of sporadic solar activity, such as flares or coronal mass ejections. The databases of background radiation counts extracted for the study have been published and can be accessed through the Europlanet SPIDER planetary space weather service (http://spider-europlanet.irap.omp.eu/).

All the datasets showed a decrease in the number of cosmic ray detections as the peak in activity for Solar Cycle 24 was reached. In particular, the Mars Express data and the observations from Earth showed very similar features. However, there was an apparent lag of around nine months between the maximum number of sunspots and the minimum in cosmic ray detections at Mars.

“Previous studies have suggested that there is a delay of several months between solar activity and the behaviour of cosmic rays at the Earth and at Mars. Our results appear to confirm this and also provide further evidence that Solar Cycle 24 was a bit unusual, perhaps due to the long solar minimum between Cycle 23 and 24, or the relatively low activity during Cycle 24,” said Dr Futaana.

The analysis of the Venus Express data has been complicated by changes in the way onboard processing was carried out from 2010 onwards. In addition, while the ASPERA instruments carried by Mars Express and Venus Express were based on a common design, they were each tailored to the very different planetary environments in which they operated. This means that a direct comparison of cosmic ray fluxes at Mars and Venus is not possible using the available datasets. 

“The use of background counts to study the interaction of cosmic rays and high energy particles with planetary missions is relatively new. However, obtaining this information shows potential as a powerful tool, for example, in protecting the upcoming JUpiter Icy moon Explorer (JUICE) mission of the European Space Agency, which will explore the harsh environment around Jupiter’s icy moons,” said Nicolas Andre of the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP) in Toulouse, France, coordinator of the Europlanet SPIDER service and co-author of this study.

Publication details

Futaana et al. Galactic Cosmic Rays at Mars and Venus: Temporal Variations from Hours to Decades Measured as the Background Signal of Onboard Micro-Channel Plates. The Astrophysical Journal. 2022. DOI: 10.3847/1538-4357/ac9a49

Images

Artists’ impressions of Mars Express (left) and Venus Express (right). Credit: ESA/D Ducros/AOES Medialab.

Artists' impressions of Mars Express (left) and Venus Express (right).
Artists’ impressions of Mars Express (left) and Venus Express (right). Credit: ESA/D Ducros/AOES Medialab.

Artistic representation of galactic cosmic rays. Credit: M Eriksson/IRF.

Artistic representation of galactic cosmic rays.
Artistic representation of galactic cosmic rays. Credit: M Eriksson/IRF

Video

Interview with Dr Yoshifumi Futaana. https://youtu.be/5ZdwAEivOtY

Science Contacts

Dr Yoshifumi Futaana
Swedish Institute of Space Physics
Kiruna
Sweden
futaana@irf.se

Dr Nicolas André
Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP)/OMP
Toulouse
France
nicolas.andre@irap.omp.eu

Media Contacts

Martin Eriksson
Information officer
Swedish Institute of Space Physics
Kiruna
+46 72 581 33 33
martin.eriksson@irf.se

Anita Heward
Press Officer
Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI)
+44 7756 034243
aheward@europlanet-society.org

Further Information

About IRF

The Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF) is a governmental research institute under the Ministry of Education. IRF conducts basic research and postgraduate education in space physics, space technology, and atmospheric physics.

IRF has over 60 years of experience in developing instruments for space research projects and participates in several major international collaborative projects using satellites and ground-based equipment.

About Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. The project builds on a €2 million Framework 6 Coordination Action (EuroPlaNet), a €6 million Framework 7 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet RI) and a €10 million Horizon 2020 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet 2020 RI) funded by the European Commission. 

The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Society’s aims are:

  • To expand and support a diverse and inclusive planetary community across Europe through the activities of its 10 Regional Hubs
  • To build the profile of the sector through outreach, education and policy activities
  • To underpin the key role Europe plays in planetary science through developing links at a national and international level. 

Europlanet 2024 RI project website: www.europlanet-2024-ri.eu

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org   

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia

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