Solar Orbiter, a new mission to the sun by Europe and NASA, to launch next month

Space.com | 1/22/2020 | Mike Wall
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A new sun-studying spacecraft is set to get off the ground soon.

Solar Orbiter, a mission led by the European Space Agency (ESA) with NASA participation, is scheduled to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on Feb. 5 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Liftoff - Months - NASA - Parker - Solar

The liftoff will come just 18 months after NASA's Parker Solar Probe (PSP) took to the skies, kicking off its historic sun-kissing mission. PSP has set the all-time spacecraft speed record and gotten nearer to our star — about 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) — than any other mission in history.

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PSP - Records - Sun - Life - Miles

And PSP will continue to break these records; it will get closer and closer to the sun over its seven-year scientific life, ultimately zooming within a mere 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) of the solar surface.

Solar Orbiter won't try to match those superlatives; on the closest-approach phases of its highly elliptical orbit, the probe will still be about 26 million miles (42 million km) from the sun. But the ESA-NASA spacecraft will do some special things of its own.

Starters - Solar - Orbiter - Sun - Something

For starters, Solar Orbiter will look directly at the sun, something that PSP doesn't do (and you shouldn't, either). In addition, the ESA-NASA probe will zoom through space substantially out of the ecliptic, the plane in which the solar system's big planets circle.

This unique perspective will allow Solar Orbiter to get good looks at our star's polar regions, said Holly Gilbert, NASA deputy project scientist for Solar Orbiter.

Image - Poles - Sun - Gilbert - Month

"We've never been able to image the poles of the sun," Gilbert said last month during a news conference at the annual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco. "That is extremely important for helioseismology, but also for looking at the global magnetic field of...
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