Wednesday, January 29th, 2020

New mission to take first peek at Sun’s poles: NASA

Published 11:33 pm | January 29, 2020

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Desk Reports : U.S. space agency NASA announced Monday that NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will launch a new spacecraft to snap the first pictures of the sun’s north and south poles.

The spacecraft Solar Orbiter is scheduled to be launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Feb. 7, on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. It will use the gravity of Venus and Earth to swing itself out of the ecliptic plane so that it can take a first-ever bird’s eye view at the sun’s poles.

The ecliptic plane is the swath of space, roughly aligned with the sun’s equator, where all planets orbit.

“Up until Solar Orbiter, all solar imaging instruments have been within the ecliptic plane or very close to it,” said Russell Howard, space scientist at the U.S. Naval Research Lab. “Now, we’ll be able to look down on the sun from above.”

The only prior spacecraft to fly over the sun’s poles was the Ulysses spacecraft developed by NASA and ESA. It was launched in 1990 and retired in 2009. Ulysses never got closer than Earth-distance to the sun and only carried instruments that measure the space environment immediately around the spacecraft.


Solar Orbiter will pass inside the orbit of Mercury carrying four in situ instruments and six remote-sensing imagers, which see the sun from afar, according to NASA.

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