The European Space Agency is on a mission — and they’re looking for volunteers!
ESA launched their Solar Orbiter in February 2020 to get an up-close look at the Sun. The spacecraft took the closest ever pictures of the Sun so far last June, but routine science operations are just getting started this month.
Coming up on November 27, the Solar Orbiter is gearing up to make its final close flyby past Earth. This last pass will slingshot the spacecraft to Venus and onward to the Sun’s poles. The orbital maneuver will position the Solar Orbiter to take photos and readings that will answer questions about the solar wind, the Sun’s 11 year magnetic cycles, and more.
Orbit of ESA's Solar Orbiter. Simulation by Tony Dunn.
You can observe the Solar Orbiter with your eVscope!
When the spacecraft passes by Earth, it’ll be within 460 kilometers — and easily observable with your eVscope! We are collaborating with ESA to call on our Unistellar citizen scientists during this mission-critical moment. ESA is looking for our help to confirm the Solar Orbiter’s position, determine its brightness, and check the health of the spacecraft.
View of ESA's Solar Orbiter flying past Earth. Simulation by Tony Dunn.
How to observe the Solar Orbiter with your eVscope
Where can I see it?
The Solar Orbiter will be visible from North America. Your smartphone will need internet access for this observation.
When should I look for it?
The spacecraft is expected to be visible on November 27 between 5 AM UTC and 8 AM UTC. For local time in North America, it will start the night of November 26 to the morning of November 27 at:
9 PM to Midnight PST
10 PM to 1 AM MST
11 PM to 2 AM CST
Midnight to 3 AM EST
Where will it be in the sky?
To point your eVscope toward the Solar Orbiter, you will need to find its celestial coordinates. Since the target will move fast in the sky and it is so close to Earth, its coordinates will change depending on your location on Earth. You will need to compute its ephemeris — the coordinates of the target based on a specific location and a given time. Don’t worry, Unistellar has developed an easy interface to compute your ephemeris from your smartphone.
- On your smartphone, visit our Solar Orbiter page.
- In the Ephemeris Parameters section, enter the location where you’ll be observing, as well as the date and local time when you’ll be observing. Then, click on Search to get your results.
- After a few seconds, the Ephemeris Results section will appear below. Here, you can find a list of coordinates for the night. Each line corresponds to the position of Solar Orbiter at a specific time.
- If the spacecraft is visible for your location, you will be able to click on the smartphone icon that will open your Unistellar App and fill the Planetary Defense section with the correct coordinates.
- If the spacecraft is not visible, a crossed-out eye icon will appear.
- The duration, gain and exposure time should automatically be added in the Planetary Defense menu. If not, please use:
Gain: 28 db
Exposure Time: 300 ms
- Set up your eVscope, check the collimation, check the focus, and compute your ephemeris with your smartphone (see above in Detailed Instructions)
- If you want to observe the Solar Orbiter at 10 PM PST, you should be ready 10 minutes in advance. (Make sure you’ve successfully completed Field Detection.)
- To avoid an issue that may be fixed soon on iOS, you should then close out the App.
- At 9:50 PM: on the ephemeris calculator page, in the results section, click on the smartphone button associated with the 10 PM time slot to send the information to the Unistellar App.
- The Planetary Defense mode on the App will open with the right coordinates and observing parameters
- Click on GoTo to point to the spacecraft.
- At 9:58 PM, Launch the recording. Check the screen and you will see the spacecraft passing by!
- Well done! You have recorded your first observation of a spacecraft visiting Earth for one last time!
- We encourage you to record several observations by repeating the procedure described above.
What should you do after you observe?
- Upload your observation
- Please fill out this form to let us know you observed and we will process your observation to refine the orbit of the spacecraft.
- You will receive a report from us.
Thank you for participating in this mission with us! Together we can support the Solar Orbiter Mission and other space missions in the future!
If you have any questions, please reach out to us at email@example.com.