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What you need to know about NASA's mission to touch the sun

11 August 2018

The probe will travel at 430,000 miles an hour, faster than any spacecraft in history, and use Venus's gravity over the course of seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun. While we don't have technology that would survive the sun's surface heat of 2 to 3 million degrees Fahrenheit, the Parker probe has heat shields that will protect it from the temperatures it will face, about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Solar wind can create a whole host of issues for humans - from messing with Global Positioning System communications to exposing astronauts in space to high radiation - and the Parker Solar Probe is launching on a mission to figure out where it comes from.

NASA's plans for the probe include multiple orbits of the sun, repeatedly slingshotting itself around the star and gathering vital science data each time it makes its approach.

The probe is expected to take flight atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket at 3:33 a.m. ET on Saturday, ironically launching to the sun in the dead of night from Cape Canaveral Florida.

This is a phenomenon that has baffled NASA scientists because the sun's atmosphere "gets much, much hotter the farther it stretches from the sun's blazing surface".

As NASA explains, the probe's first challenge will be to cancel out the speed at which the earth is moving in relation to the sun.

Earth, and all the other objects in the Solar System are constantly plowing through what is known as the solar wind - a constant stream of high-energy particles, mostly protons and electrons, hurled into space by The Sun.

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.

What you need to know about NASA's mission to touch the sun