The US space agency NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are planning to launch the Solar Orbiter. The new spacecraft will travel to the Sun. It will snap the first images of Sun’s north and south poles. According to NASA, the new spacecraft will have its first opportunity to launch on February 7 from Cape Canaveral. It will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The Solar Orbiter will use the Venus and Earth’s gravity to swing itself out of the ecliptic plane. It is the path of the Sun’s motion on the celestial sphere as seen from Earth. All planets orbit in this path which is roughly aligned with the Sun’s equator.
Space scientist Russell Howard said the spacecraft will give a chance to look down on the Sun from above. The spacecraft’s bird’s eye view will give the first-ever look at the Sun’s poles. The poles are important particularly for forecasting space weather events accurately. NASA project scientist Holly Gilbert said scientists need accurate model of the massive magnetic field of the Sun as it plays a crucial role in shaping the space. Scientists monitor the magnetic field of Sun to prepare for arriving solar storms. But the techniques work best with a straight-on view. The sidelong glimpse of the Sun’s poles leaves major gaps in the data.
The Sun’s magnetic field stretches far beyond Pluto which is the largest known dwarf planet in the solar system. When bursts of solar wind hit Earth, they can trigger space weather storms affect communications satellites and even threaten astronauts. The previous spacecraft to fly over the Sun’s poles was also a jointly launched by the NASA and the ESA in 1990. The Ulysses spacecraft passed around the Sun thrice. It was decommissioned in 2009. The spacecraft never got closer than Earth-distance to the Sun. But the latest Solar Orbiter will be the closest any Sun-facing cameras have ever gotten to the yellow dwarf star.