Today NASA announced their plans for humanity’s first mission to “touch the Sun”. Next summer, NASA will launch a probe directly into the sun’s atmosphere for the first time ever seeking to unravel the mysteries behind it and improve forecasts for space weather events which could harm satellites, astronauts, and communications here on Earth.
The probe will go seven times closer to the sun than any other craft has gone before. We’ve actually never been this close to a star for that matter (the sun is our closest star). The 10 foot craft named Parker Solar Probe will travel within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface and will travel at a speed of 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest spacecraft in history.
It will withstand temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees fahrenheit, or 1,371 degrees celsius. The spacecraft will be equipped with a new type of heat shield that will keep the instruments at room temperature. The probe will do a close flyby of the sun 24 times over the course of 7 years and will study the solar wind, measure the sun’s electric and magnetic fields, and photograph it’s solar structure.
This mission will teach us things like how stars work, and hopefully provide us with an understanding as to why the solar corona is actually hotter than the surface of the sun, and how solar wind is accelerated; something that has long puzzled scientists. The corona is the outer atmosphere of the sun, made up of gases, and for some reason, the corona is around 3 million degrees fahrenheit (1.7M Celsius) while the actual surface of the sun is only 6,000 degrees fahrenheit (5,500 Celsius).
The mission will also help us better forecast solar storms and space weather events. A large solar event without warning could cause $2 trillion of damage in the U.S alone, and could take leave the East Coast of the U.S. without power for a year, NASA said.
The spacecraft is named after Eugene Parker, who first predicted high speed solar winds back in 1958, He turns 90 on June 10th. At first people were extremely skeptical and thought he was crazy. The theory was completely brand new, and hadn’t been written on before. The craft will also carry his paper from 1958 on solar winds as well as and a chip with pictures of Eugene.
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