The Solar Orbiter is the next solar physics mission of the European Space Agency, ESA, in collaboration with NASA, with a launch planned in 2018. The spacecraft is designed to approach the Sun to within 0.28 AU at perihelion of a highly eccentric orbit. The proximity with the Sun will also allow its observation at uniformly high resolution at EUV and visible wavelengths. Such observations are central for learning more about the magnetic coupling of the solar atmosphere. At a later phase in the mission the spacecraft will leave the ecliptic and study the enigmatic poles of the Sun from a heliographic latitude of up to 33○.
A central instrument of Solar Orbiter} is the Polarimetric and Helioseismic Imager, SO/PHI. It will do full Stokes imaging in the Landé g = 2.5 Fe I 617.3 nm line. It is composed of two telescopes, a full-disk telescope and a high-resolution telescope, that will allow observations at a resolution as high as 200 km on the solar surface. SO/PHI will also be the first solar polarimeter to leave the Sun-Earth line, opening up new possibilities, such as stereoscopic polarimetry (besides stereoscopic imaging of the photosphere and stereoscopic helioseismology). Finally, SO/PHI will have a unique view of the solar poles, allowing not just more precise and exact measurements of the polar field than possible so far, but also enabling us to follow the dynamics of individual magnetic features at high latitudes and to determine solar surface and sub-surface flows right up to the poles.
In this paper an introduction to the science goals and the capabilities of SO/PHI will be given, as well as a brief overview of the instrument and of the current status of its development.