Ever dreamt of touching the Sun? Seems practically impossible to touch the massive hot fire ball right? The NASA spacecraft named Parker Solar Probe is all set to make the impossible possible. For the first time, a NASA spacecraft will swoop in and touch the sun. The Parker Solar Probe will make 24 orbits of the star before swooping into the outermost part of the solar atmosphere, known as the corona, to study the sun up close and personal. At its closest approach, Parker Solar probe will fly within 3.7 million miles (6 million kilometers) of the sun’s surface — more than eight times closer than any other spacecraft and more than eight times closer than Mercury.
The probe launched on Aug. 11, 2018, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will study how heat and energy move through the corona and explore what accelerates the solar winds that affect Earth and other planets.
“Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we’ve puzzled over for more than six decades,” Parker Solar Probe Project scientist Nicola Fox of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement. “It’s a spacecraft loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface. And we’re very proud to be able to carry Gene’s name with us on this amazing voyage of discovery.”
“Until we can explain what is going on up close to the sun, we will not be able to accurately predict space weather effects that can cause havoc at Earth,” says John Hopkins.
Puzzles to Solve
Parker Solar Probe seeks to solve two outstanding mysteries of the sun’s atmosphere.
The first involves the corona, where temperatures are higher than those found at the surface of the sun, a process that seems to break the laws of nature, Fox said. She compared the sun to a campfire, but as you walk away from the fire, you feel hotter rather than cooler. The high temperature remains a mystery more than 60 years after it was first measured.
The second mystery involves the solar wind. The fast, hot wind blows charged particles, but its origin remains unknown. There is no organized wind close to the sun’s surface, but by the time it hits Earth, the wind blows incredibly fast. Somewhere between, an unknown agent accelerates the wind. Scientists hope that the new mission will help identify the driving force.
“To solve these mysteries, Solar Probe+ will actually enter the corona,” program scientist Lika Guhathakurta of NASA Headquarters said in a 2008 statement. “That’s where the action is.”
The Parker Solar Probe will arrive at the sun in November, spending seven years studying the star from 3.7 million miles (6 million km) away. Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, only gets as close as 29 million miles (47 million km) in its highly eccentric orbit. The spacecraft will make 24 orbits around the sun, using Venus to make seven gravity assists.
Flying through the corona for the first time, the probe will take a combination of measurements and imaging to help revolutionize our understanding of the corona and expand our knowledge and evolution of the solar wind. At its closest approach, the front of the solar shield faces temperatures approaching 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,377 degrees Celsius). It will be protected by a heat shield that will keep most of the instruments near room temperature.
“The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before,” said Parker. “It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are.”