The joint Europe and U.S. Solar Orbiter spacecraft has made its first close approach to the Sun, getting as close as 77 million kilometers and taking the closest images of the sun ever captured.
The collaboration between the the U.S. space agency, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), began in February when the orbiter was launched from from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The orbiter is designed to give close-up views of the Sun's polar regions and observe its magnetic activity for the first time.
ESA and NASA scientists say on Monday the orbiter made its first close approach to the Sun at around 77 million kilometers, about half the distance between Earth and the star. The researchers used the flyby to test the spacecraft's ten science instruments, including six telescopes.
The space agencies say pictures of the Sun taken by the orbiter will be released next month. ESA says the spacecraft is currently 134 million kilometers from Earth, so it will take around a week for the images to be sent back.
Scientists hope the instruments on board the orbiter will help solve the mysteries of the inner workings of our nearest star. To do that, the spacecraft will fly to within 42 million kilometers of the sun, closer than Mercury. At that distance, it will face temperatures up to 600 degrees Celsius, hot enough to melt aluminum.
If the mission works as expected, the Solar Orbiter will be able to take the first images of the Sun's poles as well as investigate the heliosphere and solar wind.
After sling-shotting around Venus, it's expected to make its first close solar pass in early 2022.