Dipankar Banerjee, solar physicist from Indian Institute of Astrophysics (IIA), a Bangalore-based National Research Institute of India that conducts research in astronomy, astrophysics and related subjects, will now co-investigate a solar mission of US-based spacce agency, NASA, and called as PUNCH - Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere, which is focused on understanding the transition of particles from the Sun’s outer corona to the solar wind that fills interplanetary space.

Prof. Dipanker Banerjee

Focussing the polar regions of the Sun, Banerjee will be working to study how the solar wind is accelerated. Solar wind is a stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona.

Notably, in 1960s Soviet spacecraft Luna 1 and NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft have had detected solar wind particles in space and to date, the origins and acceleration mechanisms of the slow solar wind remained a mystery.

A constant outflow of solar material streams out from the Sun, depicted here in an artist's rendering. On June 20, 2019, NASA selected two new missions – the Polarimeter to Unify the Corona and Heliosphere (PUNCH) mission and Tandem Reconnection and Cusp Electrodynamics Reconnaissance Satellites (TRACERS) – to study the origins of this solar wind and how it affects Earth. Together, the missions support NASA’s mandate to protect astronauts and technology in space from such radiation. Credits: NASA.gov

In an interaction with a national daily, Prof. Banerjee has explained that "The Sun and the solar wind are one interconnected system, but [these] have until recently been studied using entirely different technologies and scientific approaches."

Prof. Banerjee holds Masters Degree in Theoretical Physics from University of Calcutta and had participated in an Air-borne Experiment (from Indian Air force air-craft) to photograph the solar corona during total solar eclipse happened in 24th October 1995.

Funded with $165 million, PUNCH will consist of a ‘constellation’ of four suitcase-sized microsats that will orbit the Earth in formation and study how the corona, which is the atmosphere of the Sun, connects with the interplanetary medium. The mission is expected to be launched in 2022.

PUNCH mission will image and track the solar wind and also the coronal mass ejections – which are huge masses of plasma that get thrown out of the Sun’s atmosphere. The coronal mass ejections can affect and drive space weather events near the Earth.

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