The European Space Agency (ESA) had said not long ago that it is preparing a mission to the Sun in order to understand better how our beloved star works. Now, ESA had fulfilled its promise and launched the Solar Orbiter spacecraft today (February 10) on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
The purpose is to study the polar regions of the Sun, as well as to understand more about several phenomenons that occur at its surface. For instance, astronomers want to fathom how the Sun creates and controls the heliosphere. The spacecraft will also be gathering information about the transient interplanetary disturbances, the heliospheric magnetic field, the solar energetic particles, the solar wind, and the magnetic field.
The Solar Orbiter will be as close as 42 million kilometers to the Sun
It may sound like an enormous distance for us, but at an astronomical scale, it’s like the tip of a needle. It’s also about a quarter of the distance between Earth and the Sun.
Astronomers are also hoping that with the information the Solar Orbiter will be gathering, predictions of solar storms will be significantly improved. Such phenomenons can disrupt satellites and infrastructure on Earth, so it would be great to have a little more extra time in order to get prepared.
Holly Gilbert, the project scientist for Solar Orbiter, details to us how important this mission actually is for humanity:
We’ve never been able to image the poles of the sun,
That is extremely important for helioseismology, but also for looking at the global magnetic field of the sun. In order to model space weather activity and activity in general on the sun, we need that full global picture of the magnetic field.
Furthermore, the chief scientist at the UK Space Agency, Mr. Chris Lee goes on by stating that the Solar Orbiter is the most important UK space-science mission for a generation.
All we can do now is to look with enthusiasm in the future and wait for the first data brought by the Solar Orbiter.