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Europe’s space agency prepares to blot out the Sun

A render showing the two parts of Proba-3 in use in space.
Proba-3’s occulter blocks the Sun’s light for the coronagraph. | Image: European Space Agency

The European Space Agency (ESA) is preparing to create its own solar eclipses so that researchers can study one of the more difficult-to-observe parts of the Sun’s anatomy: its blazing-hot corona. To do that, it hopes to fly two separate spacecraft, 150 meters apart and aligned so that one satellite (called the “occulter”) blocks all but the corona from the other satellite, which will observe it using an instrument called a coronagraph.

The mission’s two craft will have to fly “in precise formation down to millimetre accuracy,” using satellite navigation, radio-based satellite interlinks, cameras, and a laser beam reflected between them. ESA technology director Dietmar Pilz said in a statement that getting the two to “act as if they are…

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