In July 2018, NASA will boldly go where no spacecraft has ever gone before! In a mission, daring as hell, NASA plans to send a probe that will almost touch the burning ball of fire that is our Sun. The mission promises to be one of mankind’s biggest achievements in the history of space exploration.
The space agency is all set to launch a space probe that will orbit the Sun, dipping into the recesses of the Sun’s Corona. The historic mission will see the probe orbit seven times closer to the sun than any spacecraft has ever reached before.
The probe will travel at blistering speeds of 430,000 miles per hour to reach the sun. It will make seven flybys of Venus over the course of seven years and 24 orbits for gravitational assists, getting closer and closer to the sun with each flyby. Eventually, the probe will orbit the Sun at an audacious distance of 3.7 million miles or 6.2 million kilometres within the corona.
The Sun’s Corona- the burning atmosphere that surrounds the sun, is exponentially hotter than the Sun’s surface- a mystery that has confounded scientists since decades. The solar probe will enter the Corona, collect data and images and beam them back to Earth.
The data will help scientists in understanding the Physics behind the hotness of the Corona, a singularity that goes against the laws of nature as mankind understands them. The probe will also help scientists understand the phenomenon of solar wind and solar storms. Solar wind is the flow of charged particles and radiation from the sun that spreads throughout the solar system.
This solar wind converts into a solar storm without warning, flashing past Earth at blazing speeds of a million miles per hour and playing havoc with space weather. The winds can knock out satellites, disrupt services such as communications and GPS, and even penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere and cause major power disruptions.
The probe will endure scorching temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Since humans cannot survive the brutal high temperatures and radiation of the corona, the 10 foot high probe will be an unmanned one. The solar probe will have to withstand heat and radiation never before experienced by any spacecraft. In order to achieve the impossible, the probe will be protected by a special 4.5 inch (11.43 cm) thick carbon-composite heat shield.
The solar shield will also ensure that the inside of the spacecraft and its instruments remain at room temperature.
The spacecraft will be equipped with advanced apparatus. It will carry instruments to measure bulk plasma, as well as a full package of magnetic measuring equipment. It will also carry a white light imager, called ‘Whisper’, which can photograph solar waves as the craft flies through them. From its vantage position within the corona, the probe will watch, and hopefully capture, solar winds whip up to a crescendo of supersonic speeds.
NASA said in a statement: “The spacecraft will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the physics of how stars work. The resulting data will improve forecasts of major space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.”
NASA has named the mission ‘Parker Solar Probe’, after Eugene Parker, the pioneering astrophysicist who first discovered the solar winds way back in 1958. This is the first instance when NASA has named one of its missions after a living individual.
Professor Parker is thrilled to be able to witness the heroic and historic mission. At the ceremony held to announce the Sun mission as well as to honour the great astrophysicist, who is now the Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, this is what Professor Parker had to say- “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.”