Published: Sat, August 11, 2018
Science | By

Historic NASA mission will be first to 'touch the sun'

Historic NASA mission will be first to 'touch the sun'

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

Additionally, the Sun is the only star we can study up-close, and any insights we glean from the Parker Solar Probe could help us better understand how other stars function.

At its closest approach, the probe will be just 3.8 million miles above the sun's surface.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, is set to use seven Venus fly-bys over almost seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments created to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

After it launches, the probe will travel at a record-breaking 430,000 miles per hour, the fastest speed ever achieved by a spacecraft. The goal is to collect data and images on the sun's atmosphere, called the "corona", Engadget reports. For seven years it will orbit at around 3.38 million miles from the star's surface, where temperatures reach 1,400C. But these findings are going to take a long time - first, the Parker probe will have to orbit around the sun, getting closer and closer, for as many as seven years.

The spacecraft is named for Eugene Parker, the scientist who first predicted the existence of the solar wind - fast-moving solar particles that stream through the entire solar system.

If scientists understand more about solar activity, they could use it to predict large solar eruptions that pose a threat to satellites orbiting the Earth.

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