UK-built spacecraft skims past the sun to capture closest image ever taken
ESA's Solar Orbiter scanned the sun this week. (ESA)
A spaceship built in Britain flies over the surface of the sun in a daring mission to capture the most accurate picture of our own star in history.
This week, the ship made its first narrow pass - known as perihelion - to the sun and will get even closer in the coming years.
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The European Space Agency (ESA) solar orbiter came within 47 million miles of the sun's surface on Monday after its launch in February.
Read More: Questions and Answers - Everything You Need to Know About Solar Orbiter
Over the next week, the spacecraft's 10 scientific instruments, including six telescopes, will take the most accurate picture of the Sun ever created, although it won't reach us until mid-July.
"We have never photographed the sun from a distance," said Daniel Muller, ESA's Solar Orbiter project scientist.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 411 rocket with the Solar Orbiter payload rolls off the vertical integration system on Pad 41 in Cape Canaveral. (NurPhoto via Getty Images)
"There were close-ups with a higher resolution, e.g. taken with the four meter long Daniel K Inouye solar telescope in Hawaii earlier this year.
"But from Earth, the atmosphere between the telescope and the sun can only see a small part of the solar spectrum that you can see from space."
NASA's Parker Solar Probe will fly closer - it will fly to the first spacecraft to fly into the sun's million-degree surface, its corona.
Read more: Solar Orbiter has a cosmic rendezvous with the tail of a comet
Unlike the Solar Orbiter, the Parker Solar Probe does not have telescopes that can aim at the sun and take pictures.
The test is performed to demonstrate that the Solar Orbiter telescopes are ready for future scientific observations.
Other instruments also provide insight into the spacecraft's environment, such as the magnetic field and particles that make up the solar wind, which could lead to “new and exciting results”.
The Solar Orbiter begins its cruise phase, which will last until November 2021.
After that, it enters the main scientific phase and approaches up to 26 million miles from the sun's surface - beyond Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun.
"We have a nine-hour download window every day, but we're already very far from Earth, so the data rate is much lower than in the first few weeks of the mission, when we were still very close to Earth," continued Müller .
“In the later phases of the mission, it will sometimes take up to several months for all of the data to be downloaded because Solar Orbiter is really a space mission.
"In contrast to near-Earth missions, we can store and disconnect a lot of data on board when we are closer to home and the data connection is much better."
Space Orbiter was built by Airbus in Stevenage, Hertfordshire and launched on February 10 from NASA's Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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