Currently traveling at some 105 million kilometres from Earth, the Airbus-built Solar Orbiter (SolO) is en route for an encounter to uncover the secrets of our closest star.
While humankind has been studying the Sun for hundreds of years, the research is limited because data was always collected from distances more or less equal to the star’s separation from Earth, according to Ian Walters, Airbus’ SolO Project Manager.
“Solar wind takes about two to four days to get from the Sun to Earth, and in that time, it transforms completely,” he explained. “We can better correlate what is seen with what is felt from the Sun if we can get up close. That’s the point of the Solar Orbiter mission…and it’s never been achieved before.”
Solar Orbiter was launched in February in a joint mission of the European Space Agency and the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Travelling closer to the Sun than its nearest planet – Mercury – SolO will make comprehensive measurements of the nascent solar wind.