NASA details how it plans to 'touch the sun'

Terry Joseph
August 12, 2018

Further, it will often be on the opposite side of the Sun from the Earth.

Over roughly seven years following its launch, the probe will use the gravity of Venus to assist it as it pulls closer and closer to the Sun, until it reaches a distance of around 6.25 million kilometres from the Sun's "surface". "Each time we fly by we get closer and closer to the Sun".

The Parker Solar Probe will carry a chip with photos of Parker, his revolutionary paper and his message to the sun: "Let's see what lies ahead".

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done incredible things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", said Nicola Fox, mission project scientist. "This mission has the potential to steer solar and heliospheric research into a new direction".

The probe will orbit within 3.9 million miles of the sun's surface in 2024, closer to the star than Mercury. If the teams investigate the issues that delayed Saturday's launch and it can't be resolved in time for a 24-hour turnaround, the next attempt won't happen until Monday. To withstand these extreme conditions and relay the long-awaited information, the probe is equipped with a high-performance heat shield.

"We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission".

The heat shield is a sandwich of carbon-carbon composite surrounding almost four and half inches of carbon foam, which is about 97 percent air. "However, we did not have the technology that could protect a spacecraft and its instruments from the heat", said Adam Szabo, the mission scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The temperatures at the surface of the shield will climb up to 1370 ° C. This heat comes from the radiation of the nearby Sun, whose surface reaches 5500 ° C. Betsy Congdon is confident; 'in our tests, we showed what [the probe] was made of'. Sandwiched between two carbon sheets is airy carbon foam.

It is therefore behind this protection that the instruments are hidden. On its final three orbits, the probe will enter the sun's atmosphere, also known as its corona.

Nasa launches Parker Solar Probe in mission to 'touch the sun'
NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community". The unmanned Parker Solar Probe aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the center of our solar system.

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"I will believe there is a successful launch when there is a successful launch", said Parker, who the mission is named after.

It's important to learn as much as possible about the sun and how it produces space weather because Earth is inside the atmosphere of the sun. It will also pass through the origin of the solar particles with the highest energy.

Once expelled from the solar corona, the particles should cool down and slow down as they move away from the Sun.

But the Parker Solar Probe was built to do just that. Although our own magnetic field generally does a good job deflecting the solar wind, occasionally a few "gusts" will make it into the atmosphere, creating stunning auroras.

How can the solar corona exceed one million degrees Celsius? But even though the Sun has such a powerful pull, it's surprisingly hard to actually go to the Sun: It takes 55 times more energy to go to the Sun than it does to go to Mars. But heat is the transfer of energy between molecules.

To explain this odd phenomenon, several theories have been put forward.

"The state of solar wind is greatly affected during its journey toward Earth and beyond by a number of other physical processes, which mask completely what caused the heating and acceleration of the plasma in the corona in the first place", Raouafi says.

Since Parker Solar Probe will skim through the Sun's atmosphere, it only needs to drop 53,000 miles per hour of sideways motion to reach its destination, but that's no easy feat. The new Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope (DKIST) installed in Hawaii, capable of taking very accurate images, will be usable from 2020 on. NASA said, "As we send spacecraft and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this space environment just as early seafarers needed to understand the ocean".

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