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NASA to launch solar probe that will study the sun's atmosphere

09 August 2018

Nasa is set to launch a space exploration mission this week that will attempt to "touch the Sun" and could offer vital clues about how solar energy works.

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world and even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are lovely - but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere".

The sun's corona is full of mysteries.

In less than a week, the Parker Solar Probe will soar to the skies and embark on its historic journey to the sun.

The spacecraft has undergone a brutal regimen of testing at the APL and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Thomas Zurbuchen, from NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said: "By studying our star, we can learn not only more about the Sun".

To help scientists answer these questions, engineers have outfitted the solar probe with a variety of instruments. The Energetic Particle Instrument - actually a pair of instruments, EPI-Lo and EPI-Hi - will also detect and measure electrons, protons and ions, but across a wider energy spectrum.

It features new technology including a heat shield which allows the probe to operate at room temperature.

"The thermal protection system is so important", Christian said. Over the next seven years, the probe will be performing 24 flybys of the sun - three of which will take it within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million kilometers) from the sun's surface. At such extreme speeds, even a tiny speck of dust can do damage.

In order to reach the sun, the probe must leave Earth at a high velocity.

The probe is created to study the sun's atmosphere at small scales, particle by particle.

McComas has been involved in designing and planning the Parker Space Probe for more than a decade, but the mission was first identified as a priority in 1958, at the start of the space age.

Additionally, it will carry a memory card containing over 1.1 million names, including William Shatner's, of people who asked for them to be sent into the sun.

Once the probe arrives it has several tools to use. On its way to and from the sun's atmosphere, the probe's wide field camera will provide large-scale images of the sun.

"We hide in the shade underneath the shield", McComas said.

NASA to launch solar probe that will study the sun's atmosphere