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article imageNASA begins tests of solar probe before launch to 'touch the sun'

By Karen Graham     Jan 23, 2018 in Science
NASA has begun testing its Parker Solar Probe that will 'touch the sun' when it launches into space this summer. The probe's journey will be humanity’s first visit to a star and will come as close as 3.9 million miles (6.3 million km) to the sun.
Not only will the probe get up close and personal with the sun, but this will put the spacecraft well within Mercury’s orbit, hurtling around the sun at approximately 430,000 mph (700,000 kph).
To achieve their goals, NASA engineers have protected the spacecraft with a 4.5-inch-thick (11.4 centimeters) carbon-composite shield which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft that reach nearly 2,500 F (1,377 C). This very same shield will also protect Parker and its delicate instruments from the extreme coldness of space as it travels to the sun.
NASA’s first mission to go to the sun  the Parker Solar Probe  is named after Eugene Parker who fi...
NASA’s first mission to go to the sun, the Parker Solar Probe, is named after Eugene Parker who first theorized that the sun constantly sends out a flow of particles and energy called the solar wind.
In preparation for the launch of the probe from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Florida this summer, the car-sized probe is undergoing a very important test. Last week, Parker was placed inside a thermal vacuum chamber where, over the course of the next seven weeks, it will experience various simulated challenges of the kind it will be subjected to during the mission.
The probe will remain in the chamber until mid-March before being removed for final tests and packing before heading to Florida, where it's scheduled to be launched aboard a Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle. The latest launch window is for July 31 – Aug. 19, 2018.
To touch the Sun
Mankind has for years pushed the boundaries in attempting to achieve the impossible, and it has long been assumed that getting close to the sun was a recipe for death. And like Icarus, the son of Daedalus, who made a pair of wings out of feathers and wax so he could fly as high as the sun, the story shows us that we have no limits in what we can strive to achieve.
Prof. Eugene Parker from University of Chicago in 2007.
Prof. Eugene Parker from University of Chicago in 2007.
For the past 60 years, scientists have sought to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles, but until recently, the advanced materials needed to make such a close trip to the sun's corona weren't available.
Today, a trip to the sun is possible, using cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its dangerous journey. Parker Solar Probe will carry four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma, and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.
The official name of the solar probe was announced by NASA during a live stream event in May 2017 at the University of Chicago's William Eckhardt Research Centre Auditorium. Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington said at the time, "We wanted to take the challenge of going to the worst thermal environment in the solar system - and surviving it."
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Ea...
Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth's atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger
NASA has three important questions that need answers
The Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living With a Star program to explore aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. And there are probably hundreds of questions about the sun and its relationship to the Earth, other stars, space weather and much more.
But in May, Eric Christian, a NASA research scientist at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland said, "We can't get to the very surface of the sun," but the mission will get close enough to answer three important questions."
Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel  Maryland  work on NA...
Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, work on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft. Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to fly directly through the Sun’s atmosphere.
One question that has solar scientists stumped is why the sun's surface, called the photosphere, is not as hot as the sun's atmosphere, or corona. It may sound strange, but the surface of the sun is only 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit while the atmosphere above the surface is about 3.5 million degrees Fahrenheit.
A second question has to do with solar winds. Scientists want to know how a solar wind gets its speed. "The sun blows a stream of charged particles in all directions at a million miles an hour," Christian said. "But we don't understand how that gets accelerated."
Scientists also want to know why the sun occasionally produces high-energy particles known as solar energetic particles. These particles are a danger to astronauts and spacecraft.It is hoped the mission will provide data on solar activities that could affect our ability to forecast space-weather events that can impact life on Earth.
More about parker solar probe, NASA, corona measurements, Solar storms, Technology
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