Science

Spacewatch: Firing up for a close encounter with the sun

Spacewatch: Firing up for a close encounter with the sun

It will take six years for the probe to make to reach its closest point to the sun, in 2024, by using Venus' gravity to bring itself nearer and nearer to the star.

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. But it can withstand 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) as well as extreme radiation, thanks to its high-tech carbon.

The closer, the better for figuring out why the corona is hundreds of times hotter than the Sun's surface. The goal is to collect data and images on the sun's atmosphere, called the "corona", Engadget reports.

Earth, and all the other objects in the Solar System are constantly plowing through what is known as the solar wind - a constant stream of high-energy particles, mostly protons and electrons, hurled into space by The Sun. These disturbances can also create complications as we attempt to send astronauts and spacecraft farther away from the Earth.

Eugene Parker, 91, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago. It's the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who's still alive.




The probe, which was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, is also carrying more than 1.1 million names to the Sun.

The records will start falling with the first orbit, when the Parker Solar Probe comes within 25 million km of the Sun and beats the current record holder, Nasa's former Helios 2 spacecraft.

It is a fast-paced mission, with the first Venus encounter occurring less than two months after liftoff, in early October, and the first brush with the Sun in November.

The Parker Solar Probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker, will, as the United States space agency describes it, "touch the sun" as it flies within 3.9 million miles of the star's surface.

You know something exciting is just around the bend, but where you're sitting you can't see what that is. During its elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will make it up to 430,000mph, which would be a new speed record. No matter how fast we try to shoot the probe into space, its momentum will cause it to keep orbiting the sun...