Pro/Am observations during Solar Orbiter remote-sensing campaigns

This page is dedicated to the observations made, or planned, with amateur astronomers in support of the Solar Orbiter mission.


The ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter mission started its nominal mission phase at the end of 2021. 2022 sees the implementation of the first Solar Orbiter Observing Plans (SOOPs), which coordinate the observations made with the different remote-sensing instruments on board the spacecraft to fulfill common science objectives.
From October 8th until November 7th 2022, the second set of remote-sensing observation windows (3 windows of 10 days each) will be carried on. During that time, one SOOP will be dedicated to the long term monitoring of one or several active regions (the targets of opportunity have not yet been decided due to the transient and dynamic nature of the Sun). Due to the close distance of the spacecraft to the Sun (~0.3 au), this sequence of observations will provide a first and unique view of a specific region of the Sun that will be tracked for a longer time than normally done at Earth's distance. 


October - November Campaign: Active region follow-up.

During this SOOP, coordinations between the spectrometer SPICE, the EUV imager EUI, and the photometric and helioseismic imager PHI, as well as Earth assets (THEMIS in the Canary Islands, BBSO in California, DKIST in Hawaii), will provide a unique opportunity to perform observations of the same active region(s) from different vantage points.
As the active region evolves, it could be observed later on on the solar disk as seen from Earth. The SOOP in question will run from 16th October till 27th October, then again on 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 6th November for an active region follow-up. We stress again that this is the first time that we will be able to track active regions for such a long time in coordination with Earth assets. We are therefore inviting amateur astronomers to join these coordinated observations and complete the dataset with their observations.

Why looking at active regions?

Active regions are the most dynamic structures on the solar disk, characterized by strong and complex magnetic fields. Visual observations show that sunspots appear in locations associated with strong magnetic field concentration, as quantified by magnetograms. These concentrated magnetic fields are created from simple bipolar to more complex configurations. A key question is therefore to understand the underlying processes that lead to the formation of these different regions, and what their subsequent evolution can lead to. While the evolution of active regions has been observed for decades and even hundreds of years, the next campaign will provide an unprecedented look: with high resolution imaging and at the closest distance we have ever been with Solar Orbiter, at high resolution and time cadence with ground-based telescopes, and over the longest period of time thanks to the contribution of both professional and amateur astronomers. 
Strong and closed magnetic field lines in active regions are associated with hot and dense plasma, raising the question of whether these structures play a role in heating the Sun's outer atmosphere, the corona. Active regions are also the preferential location for solar flares and eruptions, and are therefore an important aspect to take into account when considering the whole chain of events taking place at the Sun and impacting our planet Earth. 
There are still a lot of open questions that necessitate answers, such as: how do the long-term evolution processes influence the emergence and the dispersion of active regions? What are the roles of the small-scale features in the active region evolution and heat transport? What is the relation between the solar corona and underlying layers? How are active regions generating space weather phenomena such as flares and large scale eruptions?


Contribution from amateur astronomers.

Amateur astronomers can provide very useful of the Sun's atmosphere, such as in the H-alpha line with a very good contrast. Such observations can for example inform on the chirality of solar filaments or prominences, and the details seen can also inform on the structures seen in association with sunspots (e.g. penumbral activity). 
The images can be of the entire disk, which is useful for context, or focus on the active region of interest, which location will be given once the Solar Orbiter team will decide on the target closer to the beginning of the remote-sensing observations.
A key aspect of involving the amateur astronomers community is to provide the most continuous monitoring possible. While the month of October is not very favorable weather-wise for countries in the northern hemisphere, we are counting on the geographical distribution of observers, to have the best possible temporal coverage.
This operation is an exceptional opportunity to participate in an unprecedented pro-am collaboration to observe the Sun, along a space mission. While other campaigns will take place in the future, this first campaign will provide a really good preparation for future opportunities.


How to participate?

First, anyone can participate. However, to allow scientists to skimm through the database of amateurs observations, we propose the following structure: 
Step 1: Register with an anonymous ID number
Please follow the link here.
The first column provides a unique 5-digit number. Where the second column has an empty line, you can put two letters of your choice. 
The combinaison of both digit number + 2 letters will be your anonymous identifier. For example, if the first empty line corresponds to 12345, and you choose AB as your two first letters, please fill the second column with "AB". Your identifier 12345AB.
Step 2: Provide your information as text file.
A link will be made available at the start of the campaign to upload your contribution. 
At this link, please upload a simple .txt file named "identifier.txt" (In our example, this will be 12345AB.txt).
In the .txt file, please write:
  1. your name (if you want to remain anonymous, you don't need to provide this)
  2. an email address to contact you would we want to discuss with you your observations
  3. your location (rough location is ok, but this would allow us to understand the geographical coverage of the amateur observations we will be collected)
  4. Any other information you would like to share (e.g. website, instrumentation you generally use)
Step 3: Upload your contribution in time.
From October 16th, this page will be regularly updated to inform you of the state of the Sun and the target location that has been decided by the Solar Orbiter team. Fingers are crossed for some nice activity!
To upload your contribution, please follow the protocol below: 
- JPEG, PNG, TIFF image formats will be accepted, but the ideal is to double the upload with the data in FITS format.
- For data in the FITS format, we request that your anonymous identifier number is written, as well as the date of the observation in YYYY:MM:DD:hh:mm:ss where YYYY= year, MM = month, DD = day, hh = hour, mm = minutes, ss = seconds. 
- All images files should be named as 'YYYYMMDDhhmmss_ID_*.extension' where:
  • YYYYMMDDhhmmss is the date of the observation
  • ID is your identifier
  • * can indicate the observation type, e.g. Halpha, Ca, etc. This is not compulsory.
  • .extension of the file, e.g.  .jpeg, .png, ... .fit, . Fits
For example, if participant 12345AB has taken an observation in Halpha on 20th October 2022 at ~10am, their file will be named: '20221020100000_12345AB_halpha.png'
-Finally, the major constraint will be the orientation of the images. It is strongly recommended that the orientation of the north-south axis is specified in the images, especially those where the full disc is not seen. This can be indicated by a small symbol, a small planisphere, ... The solar axis doesn't have to be oriented vertically (north up), but doing so would be very useful.
Would you need a helping hand, we can put you in contact with some experts that know how to this, for example from the WinJupos software.


Some resources

Solex is a great instrument based on 3D printing that can be mounted on a personal telescope. More information here


AR: Active region
SOOP: Solar Orbiter Observing Plan
au: astronomical unit (Earth-Sun distance, ~150 millions of km)
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