NASA Reveals the Details of Its Historic Mission To "Touch the Sun"

Artist’s impression of NASA’s Solar Probe Plus spacecraft on approach to the sun
Artist’s impression of NASA’s Solar Probe Plus spacecraft on approach to the sun
Author

02 June, 2017

As the source of all of the solar system's energy, the sun emits charged plasma in the form of magnetism and radiation that could harm people on airplanes and spacecraft, cause blackouts and wreak havoc with satellites and communications on Earth.

NASA on Wednesday announced that it has renamed the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft - humanity's first mission to a star, which will be launched in 2018 - as the Parker Solar Probe in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker.

The Parker probe will zip along at the speed of up to 430,000 miles per hour, covering 90 million miles and eventually traveling through the sun's atmosphere into its corona.

With each orbit of the sun, the probe will gradually move closer towards the scorching star and will encounter temperatures of more than 1,300 Celsius. Such observations can improve space weather forecasts and prepare Earth for drastic events like solar flares, which can cripple our electronics.

"There always are", said Dr. Eugene Parker, astrophysicist and namesake of the Parker Solar Probe.

Wearing a almost five-inch thick coat of carbon-composite solar shields, the mission, Solar Probe Plus, will reach an orbit within four million miles (6.5 million km) of the sun and will measure activity at its outer surface, known as the "corona".

Next year, the space agency will launch a probe that will get closer to the sun than any manmade object in history.

In an historic moment at the University of Chicago on Wednesday, NASA announced that the USA will launch humanity's first mission to a star. That announcement took place today during a ceremony at the University of Chicago, the same place where Parker is named S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus for its Astronomy and Astrophysics department.

The sun is a daily presence in our lives, yet science has had little access to its magnificent atmosphere. It's the first NASA spacecraft to be named after a researcher who is still alive, noted the agency's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen. "But even more we look forward to new questions that will arise from those answers that will point us to even more exciting discoveries". I am sure that there will be some surprises. 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.


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