The European Space Agency is planning to send a probe closer to the sun than has ever been attempted. The ambitious space mission is expected to happen in 2017, ESA delegates meeting in Paris announced recently.

NASA would supply instruments for the ESA's Solar Orbiter probe as well as the rocket to carry it, BBC News reported. The probe would be positioned within 42 million kilometers (26 million miles) of the sun. The mission would cost nearly 1 billion euros ($1.33 billion).

Solar Orbiter's instruments would be equipped with a shield capable of protecting the spacecraft from temperatures higher than 500 degrees Celsius. The probe would observe the sun's fiery surface from behind small slits.

Solar Orbiter is not so much about taking high-resolution pictures of the sun, although we'll get those; it's about getting close and joining up what happens on the sun with what happens in space, Tim Horbury, a lead scientist on the Solar Orbiter mission, was quoted as saying by BBC News.

The solar wind and coronal mass ejections -- these big releases of material coming off the Sun -- we don't know precisely where they're coming from, and precisely how they're generated. Solar Orbiter can help us understand that, Horbury said.

The space agency is also undertaking a separate mission to study dark matter and dark energy. The launch of the Euclid telescope to research the role of dark matter and dark energy in cosmic expansion would cost about 1 billion euros. However, unlike Solar Orbiter, that mission has not been formally adopted by ESA delegates. The launch may happen in 2019, assuming it wins approval.

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