Science/Tech

Sun's Polar Zones To Be Studied For The First Time By ESA Solar Orbiter

For the first time ever, the sun’s polar regions will be explored by a new sun-gazing spacecraft that has recently launched specifically for this mission. Per the scientists behind the mission, doing so is necessary in order to understand just how our own star creates and controls the vast bubble of plasma that covers the solar system.

Sun-Gazing Spacecraft

Named the European Space Agency’s Solar Orbiter, the spacecraft reportedly launched at 11:03 pm ET on Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Effectively, the spacecraft has now entered a two-year convoluted journey that will see it enter an orbit that would take it closer to the sun than Mercury gets repeatedly, getting two gravity assists (from Venus and Earth, respectively) along the way.

After reaching the orbit come November 2021, the spacecraft will then be studying the sun for at least four years, going where no solar spacecraft has gone before. Once there, it will be soaring both above and below the orbits of other planets in order to take the very first peek at our sun’s north and south poles, both of which have never been seen before. From there, the spacecraft will then be seeing how these regions change alongside the sun’s own magnetic field flips that would happen sometime during the middle of this decade.

Per ESA, the spacecraft reportedly carries around 10 science instruments, including a number of cameras and devices that would be used to study and measure the solar wind and the sun’s magnetic field. Furthermore, its closest approach to the sun will also be about 42 million kilometers from its surface. As such, most of its instruments will then be observing the star through protective windows in order to make sure they don’t get damaged from the heat.

“Solar Mission Trifecta”

The Solar Orbiter is just one of the many new missions that are all attempting to study the sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe for example, has already given us new information about the sun. Unlike the Solar Orbiter, it won’t be looking at the sun directly despite being closer to it more than the Solar Orbiter will ever be.

Solar Flare As of early 2011, solar cycle 24 was under way, headed toward a peak of activity expected in 2013. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Ce

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