NASA to fly probe into sun's atmosphere

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The Parker Solar Probe will have to survive temperatures as high as 2,500 Fahrenheit (1,371 Celsius), impacts by supersonic particles and powerful radiation as it circles as close as 4 million miles (7 million km) to the sun. NASA says it will be subjected to heat and radiation unlike any other spacecraft in history.

Two puzzles: Scientists hope to better understand two things in particular: "How is the solar wind accelerated, and why is the. corona so much hotter than the solar surface?"

The probe was announced earlier this week, but NASA said on Wednesday that it had made a decision to name the probe after Parker at a ceremony at the University of Chicago where Parker, who turns 90 in just over a week, is the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus. The instruments are protected from 2,500-degree heat by an engineering feat worthy of science fiction-a 4.5-inch carbon-composite shield that will keep the equipment near room temperature.

The probe will eventually orbit within 3.7 million miles of the sun's surface. Tucker pointed out that the Kepler Space Telescope is steered by solar winds. "It is my great honor, a few days before your 90th birthday, Gene, to announce we're renaming the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft to be known from now on as the Parker Solar Probe". This is the first time that NASA has named a spacecraft after a living astrophysicist.

If you're a big fan of solar astronomy, jump onto NASA TV on Wednesday, 3pm Greenwich Mean Time (11am Eastern Daylight Time; 1am Australian Eastern Standard Time) to hear for yourself what the researchers are planning. The team is also designing solar panels that can swing into and out of the spacecraft, depending on the probe's distance from the sun.

NASA to fly probe into sun's atmosphere
NASA to fly probe into sun's atmosphere

The space agency is planning to send a spacecraft to the sun. A member of the science team for the probe's Fields instrument, Horbury plans to study turbulence within the solar wind.

An illustration of NASA's Solar Probe Plus as it flies toward the sun. It will use Venus flybys over the course of seven years and 24 orbits for gravitational assists to get closer and closer to the sun.

It's the first time a spacecraft will fly directly into the sun's atmosphere, or corona, where it will encounter temperatures of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and brutal radiation levels. "One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what's going on in the solar wind".

The destination is the Sun's mysterious Corona.

The spacecraft will measure plasma waves and high-energy particles, and carry a white light imager to capture images of the structures through which it is flying, according to Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

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