Its goal is to study the Sun up close. To do so, the craft is outfitted with a suite of ten instruments — four in-situ instruments and six imagers — that will make detailed observations, providing a comprehensive view of our star. The spacecraft will also capture the first images of the Sun's polar regions.
Our entire solar system is governed by the activity that comes from the Sun. A continual stream of energetic particles called the solar wind moves away from the Sun and bathes all the planets. The solar wind and the Sun's magnetic field together create a huge bubble called the heliosphere, which protects Earth and all the other planets from powerful interstellar radiation called cosmic rays. Energetic eruptions of plasma called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) that originate on the Sun also become embedded in the solar wind.
When a CME makes it way to Earth, the solar particles can interact with our planet's magnetic field to produce powerful electromagnetic fluctuations. These geomagnetic storms are troublesome because they can disrupt technologies here on Earth like communications systems and even power grids, and can also be dangerous to astronauts and satellites in space.
Solar Orbiter will link the Sun to its heliosphere as never before, helping to establish a cause-and-effect relationship to what happens on the Sun and what we observe in the near-Earth environment, mission team members have said. One of the mission's goals is to understand how the solar magnetic field works and how it affects the solar cycle - a periodic change in the Sun's activity.
Credit for Image at Top: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Sun: NASA/SDO/P. Testa (CfA)