A Cypriot researcher is part of the ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter mission team, which aims to understand the main physical mechanisms of the Sun and how they affect space and planets.
Dr. Georgios Nicolaou, a professional member of the Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation (CSEO) talked to CNA about his role, as well as the aim and the importance of this mission, which will last around ten years and was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the 9th of February 2020.
Stressing that the contribution of the Solar Orbiter to space exploration is crucial and of great importance, he said that Solar Orbiter will take the measurements we need to understand important and fundamental mechanisms of the Sun, and how the Sun controls the heliosphere, the giant bubble that includes the entire solar system.
He added that Solar Orbiter will approach the Sun and take photographs of its regions, while at the same time it will analyze the Solar magnetic field and the material that is constantly flowing in space interacting with Earth and the planets in our solar system.
Dr Nicolaou has worked on several space missions by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). He has published papers with his studies on the properties of ions in the magnetosphere of Jupiter, on the thermodynamics of Solar Wind plasma, Heliospheric structures, dynamics of cometary ions, and plasma instrument.
Speaking to CNA about Solar Orbiter, he said it is the first mission to bring telescopes closer to the Sun than ever before and it will image the poles of the Sun for the first time.
“The proper analysis of the observations will help us to understand how the solar magnetic field is created, and how the solar material is heated, accelerated and flows within the interplanetary space. The combination of the images and the particle measurements will help us to understand the basic mechanisms of the Solar activity”, he said.
In addition, he told CNA that Solar Orbiter will understand how explosive regions on the Sun accelerate the energetic particles that flow in the Heliosphere.
“The Sun is an enormous source of energy that can impact our lives on Earth. Understanding its basic mechanisms and how it controls the region we live at, is without a doubt extremely important for humanity”, he stressed.
Noting that Solar Orbiter is the result of an enormous effort from several scientists around the world, for many years, he told CNA that he joined the team of Solar Orbiter just in 2017, when he started working at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory.
Since then, he has been working on the characterization of the response of two plasma instruments on-board the spacecraft. The specific instruments will measure and analyze the properties of the Solar Wind plasma which consist of Solar particles emitted constantly from the Sun and flowing outwards with high speeds.
“I have developed models to characterize the response of the instruments in expected conditions. These models will help the accurate analysis of the future data. I have also developed methods to derive important properties of the Solar Wind particles, which will help us to unlock the secrets of the Sun. My research focuses on the plasmadynamics, and the unique data set by Solar Orbiter will bring new discoveries on the topic” he told CNA.
Dr Nicolaou was born in Nicosia in 1985. In 2005, he began his studies in Physics at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. During his studies he focused on the Space Physics research. In 2009 he started his master studies at the same university. In 2011, he began his PhD studies at the University of San Antonio, Texas. During his PhD studies, he worked as a researcher at Southwest Research Institute. Later on he worked as postdoctoral researcher at the Swedish Institute of Space Physics in Kiruna, Sweden. Since, 2017, he is working as postdoctoral researcher at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory of University College London.