NASA's Parker Solar Probe could revolutionize understanding of the sun

Eugene Parker at the University of Chicago               CBS News

In the coming week NASA is launching its Parker Solar Probe; a spacecraft that's specially designed "to touch the sun".

This "Parker Solar Probe", will be getting to Sun than any other spacecraft ever has before. According to Alex Young, a NASA Heliophysicist, "Parker has got a suite of instruments that are measuring particles".

"By making direct in-situ measurements of the sun's atmosphere and immediate surroundings, Parker Solar Probe is poised to redefine solar and heliospheric physics as we now understand them", McComas said.

For a successful reach Solar Probe need to set off very quickly from Earth, thus the giant rocket also the second in launch power only to the brand new Falcon Heavy rocket of Space X. The Probe needs to reach speeds of about 430,000 miles/hour in the space, hence it can be bit heavy, or else it won't be able to enter the necessary orbit.

The probe "will travel through the sun's atmosphere, closer to its surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions - and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star", NASA said in a statement.

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At closest approach to the sun, the front of the probe's solar shield will endure temperatures approaching 2,500 degrees. Eric Christian, a space scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, told UPI.

The 1000-pound, car-sized spacecraft will be performing 24 flybys of the sun over its seven-year mission.

Cutting-edge thermal engineering advances allowed the creation of a 4.5-inch thick, 8-foot diameter carbon shield that protects the spacecraft and its instruments against the heat and energy of the sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, through which the spacecraft will fly. If there is no delay, the probe will be launched with a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket on 11 August from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (Florida).

Dr Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, said: "We've been studying the Sun for decades, and now we're finally going to go where the action is".

The mission is named after physicist Eugene Parker who published a scientific paper in 1958 theorising the existence of the solar wind.

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