The US space agency NASA has announced its first mission to the ‘touch the sun’. The Parker Solar Probe, named after a famous astrophysicist, will analyse the Sun’s atmosphere, mainly to understand the mechanics of the solar wind which he had discovered. The discovery of solar wind had essentially changed our understanding of stars and how they interact with the space around them. The probe will fly directly towards the Sun’s atmosphere or Corona after launching from the University of Chicago. It would be the first time a man-made structure would face brutal heat and would swoop eight times closer to navigate through the Sun’s atmosphere to take measurements. Parker Solar Probe is on track for launch during a 20-day window that opens July 31, 2018. The mission is part of NASA’s Living With a Star (LWS) program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.
Here’s all you need to know about NASA’s ‘touch the sun’ mission:
1. The probe has been named after Eugene Parker, a prominent astrophysicist who discovered the existence of solar wind – the charged particles that are constantly streaming from our star. It’s the first time NASA has named one of its missions after a scientist who is still alive. Parker holds the S Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, and NASA is honouring his work in heliophysics.
2. The mission, originally named Solar Probe Plus, will now be called the Parker Solar Probe. The Solar Probe team will manoeuvre the spacecraft right into the Corona of the sun at 430,000 miles an hour which is 118 miles a second.
3. The probe, which is being developed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, is supposed to launch on top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket in either July or August of 2018 and then spend seven years getting into closer and closer orbits around the Sun.
4. The vehicle will do seven flybys around Venus, which will eventually bring the spacecraft within 3.7 million miles of the Sun. That is about eight times closer than any other spacecraft has been before, according to NASA.
5. The Sun is constantly spewing out highly charged particles in the form of plasma, known as solar wind. And it’s all thanks to the Sun’s outer atmosphere or the corona. Even though the corona extends millions of miles out into space, it is unbelievably hot. It is so hot that it heats up particles to such extreme temperatures that they break free of the Sun’s gravity and accelerate outward in all directions.
6. We know the basics of how solar wind works, but the processes behind these particle bursts are still not totally understood. That’s what the Parker Solar Probe is going to help us figure out.
Watch the announcement here:
7. NASA said this mission had been culminating for 60 years and the reason it took so long was that the materials that were needed to withstand the heat didn’t exist.
8. The Parker Probe Plus would also be fitted with new solar panels that would recharge while facing 7 times the heat.
9. Solar Probe team also said the spacecraft is currently being built and tested and is made to withstand temperatures of 2500 degrees Fahrenheit which is about 1371 degrees Celsius.
10. The mission is part of NASA’s LWS program, which is managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Even Johns Hopkins APL manages the mission for NASA and is designing and building the spacecraft.