Solar Orbiter will orbit our nearest star, the sun, observing it up close. It will take the first-ever direct images of its poles, while also studying the inner heliosphere—the bubble-like region around the sun created by the stream of energized, charged particles released in the solar wind.

At its closest, Solar Orbiter will come within about 42 million km of the sun: closer than the scorched planet Mercury, just over a quarter of the average distance between Earth and the sun, and closer than any European spacecraft in history.

To get it into this unique orbit at the center of the solar system, edging close to the sun’s poles instead of orbiting in a ‘flat’ plane, like the planets, teams at  in Darmstadt, Germany, have planned an intricate path.

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