Solar Orbiter takes off on mission to study sun's poles

The Sun is the New Target of Space Expedition by NASA and the European Space Agency

NRL-built camera provides view into sun's polar regions

"It's a fantastic moment ... it's like, well, we're unstoppable".

You can see the full 2-hour launch replay at ESA.

Researchers can use SoloHI and the other nine instruments on Solar Orbiter to examine phenomena on the Sun like never before since the spacecraft looks down at the Sun, instead of viewing it from the side.

NASA says the Solar Orbiter will pass closer to the sun than the planet Mercury.

The US space agency NASA (NASA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) have now turned to the Sun after carrying out many awesome discoveries in the space world.

"The two together are really ideal", said Guenther Hasinger, ESA's director of science. The 10th instrument was provided by NASA.

Almost 1,000 scientists and engineers from across Europe gathered with their USA colleagues under a full moon as United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket blasted off, illuminating the sky for miles around.

Teresa Nieves-Chinchilla is a NASA project scientist for the mission. His NASA counterpart, scientist Holly Gilbert, exclaimed: "One word: wow".

Explaining why the mission is important, he told the PA news agency: "From a scientific perspective it is about the mystery of this big object sitting at the centre of our solar system". But while Parker samples particles from up close, Solar Orbiter will snap photos from far away to heighten observations. But it doesn't fly anywhere near the poles. That's where Solar Orbiter will shine. NASA's Launch Services Program at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida selected ULA's proven Atlas V vehicle for this mission and is responsible for management and oversight of the Atlas V launch services.

The sun's poles are pockmarked with dark, constantly shifting coronal holes. The observatory will also measure the wavelengths of light emitted by the sun and decipher the magnetic signature of light that is under the influence of the sun's magnetic field. "Hopefully, we'll get to see some interesting pictures". "That's where all the fast solar wind comes from ..."

The entire thing is protected by a titanium shield; as its instruments set to work, the probe will be peeking at the Sun from behind this protective layer.

Embedded in the heat shield are five viewing holes of different sizes that stay open just long enough for the scientific instruments to take measurements in x-rays, ultraviolet, visible and other wavelengths.

Knowledge of our nearest star is key to unraveling how stars work in the Universe, but understanding solar activity is also critical for the infrastructure on and around Earth. "We need to predict that. We just can't wait for it to happen". The mission was launched to capture an unprecedented view of the sun's polar regions. It has been quiet for more than ten years. It will be the first spacecraft to reach the region and send back data.

Altogether, more than a dozen spacecraft have focused on the sun over the past 30 years. Technological advancements over the past three decades, however, means Solar Orbiter will be able to achieve even more.

"It is kind of a golden age for solar physics right now", Fox said during a January 27 media teleconference about the mission.

"There is still so much science to do", she said, "and definitely a great time to become a heliophysicist".

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