This Is What the Sun’s North Pole Looks Like

The Sun's poles remain mysterious, but scientists are poring over past imaging data to construct artificial images of what they look like.

Dec 3 2018, 4:01pm

Image: ESA/Royal Observatory of Belgium

Thanks to the clever work of scientists from the European Space Agency (ESA), we now know that the Sun’s north pole looks like.

The Earth’s poles are no longer uncharted and mysterious, but the Sun’s poles are another matter entirely. The only satellite mission to fly over the solar poles—Ulysses in the mid-90s—didn’t have any imaging instruments.

The newly created image, shared by the ESA on Monday, is only an approximation of the Sun’s north pole, but it’s no less fascinating than the real thing. Due to a lack of imaging data from the solar poles (most satellite missions focus on observing lower latitudes), scientists have been creating artificial images by extrapolating from imaging data collected by the Proba-2 satellite. It’s a painstaking process, and the striking image shared on Monday is the result of many months of hard work and dozens of iterations. Here's a bigger view:

The Sun's North Pole
Image: ESA/Royal Observatory of Belgium

Knowledge about the solar poles is crucial to probing several open areas of study regarding the Sun, such as coronal holes, areas of the plasmic aura surrounding the Sun that are colder, darker, and have less density than the rest of the corona.

The ESA’s artificial images of the Sun’s poles will continue to improve, but we’ll have to wait for the launch of the ESA’s 2020 Solar Orbiter mission to get first-hand imaging data of the Sun’s geographic extremes.

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