AN AMBITIOUS MISSION to study the Sun is set for launch in 2017. Solar Orbiter will perform a close-up study of our Sun and inner heliosphere—the uncharted innermost regions of our Solar System—to better understand, and even predict, the unruly behaviour of the star on which our lives depend.
At its closest point, the spacecraft will be closer to the Sun than any previous spacecraft, braving the fierce heat and will carry its telescopes to almost one-quarter of Earth’s distance from our nearest star.
The European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter will be the first satellite to provide close-up views of the Sun’s polar regions, which are very difficult to see from Earth. It will be able to almost match the Sun’s rotation around its axis for several days, and so it will be able for the first time to see solar storms building up over an extended period from the same viewpoint. It will also deliver data of the side of the Sun not visible from Earth.
Along this orbit, the spacecraft will reach closest approach to the Sun every five months—at around 42 million kilometres.
Adapted from information issued by ESA.
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