Science and Exploration

Exploring The Solar Poles: The Last Great Frontier Of The Sun

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
January 16, 2023
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Exploring The Solar Poles: The Last Great Frontier Of The Sun
Left: A snapshot of the surface distribution of magnetic fields from a solar surface magnetic field evolution model depicting a perspective close to the plane-of-theecliptic (solar obliquity ignored). Right: The equivalent perspective from the top of the Sun’s North pole reveals details of the polar cap missing from the low-latitude perspective. A mission that can navigate to at least 60 degrees above (or below) the ecliptic plane would reveal these details, constrain the high latitude dynamics and return accurate measurements of plasma flows and magnetic field distribution at the poles that govern solar activity and power fast solar winds. — astro-ph.IM

Despite investments in multiple space and ground-based solar observatories by the global community, the Sun’s polar regions remain unchartered territory – the last great frontier for solar observations.

Breaching this frontier is fundamental to understanding the solar cycle – the ultimate driver of short-to-long term solar activity that encompasses space weather and space climate.

Magnetohydrodynamic dynamo models and empirically observed relationships have established that the polar field is the primary determinant of the future solar cycle amplitude. Models of solar surface evolution of tilted active regions indicate that the mid to high latitude surges of magnetic flux govern dynamics leading to the reversal and build-up of polar fields. Our theoretical understanding and numerical models of this high latitude magnetic field dynamics and plasma flows – that are a critical component of the sunspot cycle – lack precise observational constraints.

This limitation compromises our ability to observe the enigmatic kilo Gauss polar flux patches and constrain the polar field distribution at high latitudes. The lack of these observations handicap our understanding of how high latitude magnetic fields power polar jets, plumes, and the fast solar wind that extend to the boundaries of the heliosphere and modulate solar open flux and cosmic ray flux within the solar system. Accurate observation of the Sun’s polar regions, therefore, is the single most outstanding challenge that confronts Heliophysics.

This paper argues the scientific case for novel out of ecliptic observations of the Sun’s polar regions, in conjunction with existing, or future multi-vantage point heliospheric observatories. Such a mission concept can revolutionize the field of Heliophysics like no other mission concept has – with relevance that transcends spatial regimes from the solar interior to the heliosphere.

Dibyendu Nandy, Dipankar Banerjee, Prantika Bhowmik, Allan Sacha Brun, Robert H. Cameron, S. E. Gibson, Shravan Hanasoge, Louise Harra, Donald M. Hassler, Rekha Jain, Jie Jiang, Laurène Jouve, Duncan H. Mackay, Sushant S. Mahajan, Cristina H. Mandrini, Mathew Owens, Shaonwita Pal, Rui F. Pinto, Chitradeep Saha, Xudong Sun, Durgesh Tripathi, Ilya G. Usoskin

Comments: This White Paper was submitted in 2022 to the United States National Academies Solar and Space Physics (Heliophysics) Decadal Survey
Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR); Space Physics (
Cite as: arXiv:2301.00010 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2301.00010v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: Dibyendu Nandy
[v1] Fri, 30 Dec 2022 11:18:21 UTC (819 KB)

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