NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission hopes to be a historic one, revolutionising our understanding of the Sun and its changing conditions affecting the solar system, Earth and other worlds.
NASA renamed the mission, Solar Probe Plus spacecraft to the Parker Solar Probe in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker who developed the concept behind solar wind in 1958.
If the Parker Solar Probe makes the trip successfully it will be able to zoom close enough to the Sun gathering a variety of data about its structure, the magnetic and electric fields surrounding it as well as the energetic particles cruising near and away from Earth’s star.
The mission is scheduled during a twenty-day window in July 2018. The The spacecraft will fly close enough to the Sun to watch the solar wind speed up from subsonic to supersonic and it will fly through the birthplace of the highest-energy solar particles.
This information could help researchers solve two longstanding mysteries; how the solar wind is accelerated and why the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, is so much hotter than the solar surface.
So just how close to the Sun does the Parker Solar Probe need to get? The spacecraft will come within 6.2 million kilometres of the Sun- that’s seven times closer than any other spacecraft has ever ventured before.
To perform these unprecedented investigations, the spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the Sun’s heat by a 11.43 cm carbon-composite shield. This will need to endure temperatures of up to 1 370 degrees Celsius as well as solar radiation intensities that are 475 times higher than what we’re accustom to here on Earth.
Oh and did I mention, this will be NASA’s first mission to the Sun? Exciting stuff, folks. The Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere facing brutal heat and radiation conditions – providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of the star.