NASA poised to blast off first spacecraft to explore Sun

Ismael LynchAug 11, 2018

There will be 24 orbits between Venus and the sun, with the final three putting Parker closest to the sun - just six million kilometres out - in 2024 and 2025.

The craft's mission is to help scientists understand more about the nature of the sun by taking measurements of solar winds, a flow of ionised gases. Nasa is hoping to use the data collected from the probe to help astronomers predict solar storms and explain some of the deepest mysteries surrounding our source of light and heat.

The closer, the better for figuring out why the corona is hundreds of times hotter than the Sun's surface.

The last time a man-made object came close to the star's surface was in 1976 when Helios 2 achieved perihelion, point of the orbit at which it was closest to the sun, at 27 million miles.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million deg F, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 deg F (1,371 deg C).

If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Scientists have had to take great care to make sure that the Parker Solar Probe doesn't burn up in the process of conducting its important science. "Well, Parker Solar Probe's going to be in there", said project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University.

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload".

The Parker Solar Probe will endure tremendous heat while zooming through the solar corona to study this outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.

Parker, now 91, recalled that at first some people did not believe in his theory.

But then, the launch of Nasa's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 - becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter - proved them wrong.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

Parker will get almost seven times closer to the sun than previous spacecraft.

It has just been in the past several years that electronics can be sufficiently miniaturized and materials like Carbon-Carbon are available to create a heat shield that can protect instruments. The goal is to collect data and images on the sun's atmosphere, called the "corona", Engadget reports.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

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