NASA scientist talks first mission to the sun

Artist’s concept of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft approaching the sun. Pic Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Solar Orbiter, another probe launched by the European Space Agency, will observe the radiation that propagates in the solar corona from a little further away. "Our first fly-by to Venus is in the fall, in September". "This rocket, in the span of just a few minutes, less than an hour, will send the spacecraft on its mission out to the Sun to literally fly through the corona - an absolutely unbelievable technological feat".

Eventually, when the spacecraft runs out of fuel, it will disintegrate as it gets pulled lower and lower in its orbit around the sun. "Recent advances in materials science gave us the material to fashion a heat shield in front of the spacecraft not only to withstand the extreme heat of the Sun, but to remain cool on the backside". We have to understand and characterise this place that we're traveling through.

The sun's ever-changing conditions, its wind and storms can spread out into the solar system, affect Earth, our cellphones, our power grids, airline communication and much more.

The spacecraft will orbit the sun 24 times - sampling the solar wind and providing close-up observations - while enduring temperatures of 1,377C (2510F). During its elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will make it up to 430,000mph, which would be a new speed record. However, the inside of the spacecraft and its instruments will remain at a comfortable room temperature. We've studied it from missions that are close in, and even as close as the planet Mercury, but we have to go there. "Why has it taken us 60 years?"

The Parker Solar Probe will become the fastest spacecraft ever.

Closely observing this region will help experts identify the source of that coronal heating, along with the process that accelerates the solar wind at enormous speeds when it leaves the Sun.

Why send a probe to the sun? .

This manoeuvre will expose the probe "to extreme heat and strong radiation" but it will also allow 'humanity to learn from the closest observations of a star ever made, ' the United States space agency continued. That's because Earth is barreling through space at 19 miles per second, or 67,000 miles per hour. The technology for surviving such a close solar encounter, while still being light enough for flight, wasn't available until now.

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However, according to NASA, the newly designed solar probe is expected to resist and persevere solar heat like never.

The probe will be close enough to watch solar wind whip up from subsonic to supersonic.

This will be the first time that solar scientists can see the objects of their study up close and personal. One of the reasons this particular time was chosen is because there is a 70 percent chance of thunderstorms tomorrow, and the risk of thunderstorms is lower in the early morning hours. First, there's a high-tech camera called the Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe, which will capture photographs of what the spacecraft is about to fly through. "The way I like to think about it: In 10 to 20 years, a carbon disk will be floating around the sun in orbit, and it will be around until the end of the solar system".

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

Sixty years ago, a young astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, Eugene Parker, proposed the existence of solar wind. At the time, astronomers believed that the space between planets was a vacuum. His work revolutionized our understanding of the sun and interplanetary space. Notably, the Parker Solar Probe is also the first NASA spacecraft to be named after a living person.

Parker's final trip around the sun will be in 2025.

And scientists aren't the only ones along for the adventure - the spacecraft holds a microchip carrying the names of more than 1.1 million participants who signed up to send their name to the Sun. Talk of such a solar probe, he said, "probably goes back at least 40 years".

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