Flying Close To The Sun (On Purpose)
The sun’s getting a lot of press lately.
And it’s about to get some more. On Monday, the European Space Agency and NASA launched the two-ton Solar Orbiter toward the sun. This Space Orbiter’s mission is to seek a bird’s eye view of the sun’s north and south poles.
NASA broke down why seeing a more complete version of the sun is important:
Because Earth orbits through the ecliptic plane, we don’t get a good view of the poles from afar. It’s a bit like trying to glimpse Mount Everest’s summit from the base of the mountain. Crucially, the poles are still missing from space weather models that scientists use to forecast solar activity.
Like Earth’s own North and South poles, the Sun’s poles are extreme regions quite different from the rest of the Sun. They’re covered in coronal holes, cooler stretches where the fast solar wind comes gushing from. There, scientists hope to find the footprints of knotted magnetic fields underlying solar activity. Many think the poles hold the first clues to the intensity of the next solar cycle, which comes roughly every 11 years, as the Sun swings from seasons of high to low activity.
We talk about what’s known and unknown about the sun’s surface, and what this new mission hopes to achieve.
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