Wednesday, 15 August, 2018

Spacewatch: Firing up for a close encounter with the sun

Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Kristen Harrington | 10 August, 2018, 21:20

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.

At its closest approach, the probe will be just 3.8 million miles above the sun's surface. Ultimately, it will find itself within the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere, an area known as the corona.

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.

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The spacecraft will orbit the sun 24 times - sampling the solar wind and providing close-up observations - while enduring temperatures of 1,377C (2510F).

The last time a man-made object came close to the star's surface was in 1976 when Helios 2 achieved perihelion, point of the orbit at which it was closest to the sun, at 27 million miles.

The mission Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, the closest any man-made instrument has ever got to a star.

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In order to combat the intense temperatures, the probe has been covered with a carbon composite coated ceramic capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C (3,002F).

NASA says it's ready for a historic trip to the sun this weekend. The probe will contain four instrument packages created to, among other things, trace the movement of energy and heat within the corona and help scientists figure out what accelerates solar energetic particles and solar wind.

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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