Historic NASA mission will be first to 'touch the sun'

This rendering demonstrates the anticipated approach of the Parker Solar Probe to the sun’s atmosphere

Nasa prepares daring mission to 'touch the Sun'

The $1.5-billion, car-sized spacecraft is created to provide a close look at the sun's atmosphere - what astronomers call the corona - to answer enduring questions about this ultra-hot region of our nearest star."We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", project scientist Nicola Fox of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, said in a written statement.

The car-sized probe, which will fly closer to the sun than any other man-made object, is set to blast off at 3:33am eastern daylight time (8:33am BST) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 11.

Scientists also hope the probe can help them to answer why the corona, the outermost layer of the sun's atmosphere, is 300 times hotter than its surface.

An artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe nearing the Sun. "It gives me the sense of excitement of an explorer".

The spacecraft is expected to make its closest approach to the sun in the year 2024, as it flies 3.9 million miles above the solar surface. It's the fastest any man-made object will have ever traveled and the probe will likely hold that title for a long time.

During its years in space, the Parker is expected to reveal never-before-seen aspects of the sun's atmosphere and the star as a whole.

"With each orbit, we'll be seeing new regions of the sun's atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we've wanted to explore for decades".

On each close approach to the sun, the probe will sample the solar wind, study the sun's corona, and provide close-up observations from around the star. If we're able to learn more about its origin and behavior, it might be possible to predict when space weather might occur.

Scientists have had to take great care to make sure that the Parker Solar Probe doesn't burn up in the process of conducting its important science.

A heat shield made using carbon composite coated with ceramic will protect it from the extreme conditions, Nasa says.

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