Humanity has never before touched the sun, but that’s about to change. NASA is sending the Parker Solar Probe to the sun in 2018, and will get closer to the star’s surface than any other spacecraft in history. They say the landmark mission “will revolutionize our understanding of the sun.”
The Parker Solar Probe mission – which NASA describes as humanity’s first visit to a star – will take us closer to the sun than ever before. The probe will need to endure extreme radiation and heat as it ventures into the outer part of the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. NASA says the Parker Solar Probe will gather information on the corona and on the evolution and origin of solar wind.
A 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield will protect the instruments inside the spacecraft from crazy temperatures of around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The various instruments will be able to image solar wind, and study plasma and energetic particles and magnetic fields.
Even though we’re around 93 million miles away from the sun on average, solar wind disturbances can affect us here on Earth. They impact what NASA calls space weather, which can interfere with our satellites. NASA says much like the seafarers of old had to learn about the ocean, now we must learn more about the space environment.
The mission holds claim to another first: the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living person. Once called the Solar Probe Plus, NASA this week renamed the probe for astrophysicist Eugene Parker, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. His work decades ago provided a foundation for much of our knowledge about stars’ interaction with worlds orbiting them.
Parker, who will turn 90 this month, said in a statement, “The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before. It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are.”
Images via John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and JHU/APL