Europe’s Solar Orbiter spacecraft will make its first close pass of the sun today.
The spacecraft will swing past the sun at a distance of just over 47 million miles, during a close pass known as a perihelion.
This distance puts solar orbiter between the orbits of Mercury and Venus.
The European Space Agency (ESA) explained: “ESA’s Sun-exploring mission Solar Orbiter will take the closest ever images of the surface of our parent star.
“During its 21-month cruise, the spacecraft will take advantage of the gravity of Earth and Venus to place itself into the correct orbit around the Sun.
“Solar Orbiter’s elliptical science orbit, with a closest point at 42 million km from the star’s surface, will take the spacecraft within the orbit of the planet Mercury.”
During its mission, Solar Orbiter will stay in sync with Venus, using the planet’s gravity to get closer to the sun.
ESA added: “Thanks to these manoeuvres, scientists will be able for the first time to get a good view of the Sun’s poles, which play an important role in the generation of its magnetic field.”
Solar Orbiter carries 10 instruments packed behind a massive 324-pound (147 kg) heat shield, three of which will peer through tiny windows to survey how the sun’s surface changes over time.
Gunther Hasinger, Director of Science at the European Space Agency, said: “As humans, we have always been familiar with the importance of the Sun to life on Earth, observing it and investigating how it works in detail, but we have also long known it has the potential to disrupt everyday life should we be in the firing line of a powerful solar storm.
“By the end of our Solar Orbiter mission, we will know more about the hidden force responsible for the Sun’s changing behaviour and its influence on our home planet than ever before.”
If you want to track Solar Orbit’s activity, make sure you check out ESA’s ‘Where is Solar Orbiter’ tool here.