Solar space mission probes secrets of sun's atmosphere

Nasa prepares daring mission to 'touch the Sun'
Nasa probe will still be circling Sun at end of Solar System say scientists

12 August, 2018

"Launch teams are working on technical issues and weather is predicted to be 70 per cent chance of favourable conditions", NASA said in a tweet late on Thursday. The study will spend 7 years.

It's important to learn as much as possible about the sun and how it produces space weather because Earth is inside the atmosphere of the sun.

But the Parker Solar Probe was built to do just that. On Board facilities are a high-quality camera, so soon, scientists will enjoy interesting images.

The Parker Solar Probe will dive deeply into the solar corona, experiencing some of the most hellish temperatures imaginable.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

Eugene Parker, 91, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago. The $1.5-billion, car-sized spacecraft is created to provide a close look at the sun's atmosphere - what astronomers call the corona - to answer enduring questions about this ultra-hot region of our nearest star. Talk of such a solar probe, he said, "probably goes back at least 40 years".

Nearly everything on the spacecraft will be behind this and thus in room-temperature shade while ducking through the jagged edges of the corona, without so much as a blister on its science instruments.

"That's the big question: what's heating the solar corona?", said Thierry Dudok de Wit, an astrophysicist at France's National Centre for Scientific Research. Hurtling toward the sun at about 430,000 miles per hour - enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in one second - it will achieve its first solar encounter a month later.

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In addition, the Earth is closer to the Sun during the northern hemisphere summer so its shadow is larger than average, he said. The higher you are, the better, because the Sun will be barely clearing the horizon as the Moon sets in the opposite direction.

The problem, NASA said, is how fast the Earth is moving as it orbits the sun: 67,000 miles per hour.

The Parker Solar Probe has gained a lot of fame as humanity's first mission to finally unlock the secrets of the solar corona and find out why it's so much hotter than the actual surface of the sun. This is the agency's first mission to the sun and its outermost atmosphere, the corona. That's a scant 4 percent of the 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) between Earth and the sun.

The solar spacecraft mission exists because of his work in heliophysics, the study of the sun.

An artist's rendition of the PSP venturing close to the Sun's surface.

"[Parker] will not only make history by answering questions that have puzzled scientists for decades, but it may also lead to the discovery of new phenomena that are completely unknown to us now", says Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe Deputy Project Scientist. The spacecraft and its suite of delicate instruments will be protected from the sun's extreme heat by a carbon fiber heat shield. Among the properties that it will be measuring regularly are the electric and magnetic fields present, along with the velocity, density, and temperature of particles that typically make up solar wind-protons, electrons, and heavier ionized nuclei.

Before Parker, the record-holder for closest solar pass was the Helios 2 spacecraft, which went within 27 million miles in 1976.

A related mechanism can accelerate protons from the sun to half the speed of light, turning them into projectiles that can damage spacecraft and satellites orbiting the Earth.

"The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before", Parker said.

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