A plethora of spacecraft have photographed the Sun, but every one of those photographs has been snapped from the rather limited perspective of the Sun’s ecliptic plane. That said, while solar-centric photographs show off the details of the Sun’s sides, we’ve never actually managed to map our star’s North and South poles.
An upcoming mission from both the ESA and NASA dubbed the Solar Orbiter aims to change this by breaking free of the traditional observational plane used by other spacecraft. When it does, it’ll make history by capturing the very first images of the Sun’s North and South poles.
Getting a spacecraft to orbit the Sun outside of the usual ecliptic plane necessitates a lot of energy, and so the mission will utilize the gravitational pull of both the Earth and the neighboring planet Venus to orient itself in such a way that it can capture the aforementioned images.
Scientists think that snagging these images will help us better understand how the Sun works – namely with regard to how the Sun’s poles flip and their association with solar eruptions, which are known for generating harsh solar winds that can damage spacecraft and harm astronauts.
While the Sun resides in plain sight, we still know so little about it. With a little luck, perhaps the seven-year Solar Orbiter mission will change that.