This is our only image of the sun’s north pole

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Scientists at the European Space Agency have stitched together images to create an artificial photoof what they believe the sun’s poles look like.

Satellite missions to the sun have almost always focused on the equator region. The Ulysses spacecraft — which was retired in 2009 — flew over the poles in 1994 and 1995 but wasn’t equipped with a camera.

To achieve this photo, ESA gathered past images from the Proba-2 (PRoject for OnBoard Autonomy 2) solar explorer. While the Proba-2 didn’t directly observe the poles, scientists were able to extrapolate pieces of images that captured the sun’s northern hemisphere. Those pieces were then stretched and laid flat to form the bird’s-eye view of the north pole.

The final photo is the product of dozens of iterations and months of work. Figuring out what the sun’s poles look like could help explain such solar phenomena as coronal holes and coronal mass ejections — the latter of which can affect space weather surrounding Earth.

While the image is only an educated guess at the sun’s polar region, ESA is planning to get a real-life look. The agency’s Solar Orbiter mission, which will explore the sun’s poles and magnetic field, is scheduled to launch in 2020.

 

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