On Sunday, February 9, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are banding together to launch a new mission to study our sun up close: The Solar Orbiter, which will peer at previously unseen areas of the sun to learn about the complex inner life of our star.
The mission will go where no observer has gone before: Over the north and south poles of the sun. Imaging the poles is particularly important for modeling space weather, as this requires an accurate model of the entire magnetic field of the sun. Additionally, the poles are thought to play a role in the cycle of sunspots — dark blotches that appear on the surface of the sun and which come and go in an approximately 11-year cycle. Scientists still have no idea why this 11-year cycle exists, but looking at the magnetic fields of the poles could provide an answer.