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Tuesday, July 28, 1998 Published at 12:41 GMT 13:41 UK


Scientists find lost satellite

Arecibo- the worlds largest radio telescope

Scientists have found the wayward Soho satellite thanks to a radar signal sent from one radio telescope and picked up by another. Our science editor Dr David Whitehouse reports

When scientists lost contact with the highly successful Soho (Solar and Heliospheric Observatory) solar monitoring satellite many of them believed that the chances of regaining control of the satellite were slim.

As it is positioned in an unstable point in space closer to the sun than the earth, they feared that without any power it would drift off into space.

It may still do so but at least scientists know that it is currently still in position and that they still have a chance to rescue it.

To find it they used the largest radio telescope in the world.

It is the Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico built into the natural topography of the region.

[ image: Soho- not lost in space]
Soho- not lost in space
It sent out a burst of radio waves towards Soho's last known position. Another radio telescope in California waited for the radar echo from Soho.

It worked. Soho is still in the right part of space and is turning slowly at a rate of roughly one revolution per minute.

Engineers at Nasa and the European Space Agency are continuing their efforts to re-establish communications with the satellite and are pleased that it is spinning so slowly.

Scientists hope that as it turns, its array of solar cells - currently pointing away from the Sun - will emerge from shadow, hopefully generating enough power to re-establish control sometime in September.

If Soho does return to life, it will be a classic example of how care and patience can be rewarded as well as good news for scientists who will be able to study solar storms as the activity on our nearest star rises towards its 11-year maximum.

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