5 THINGS ABOUT MISSION TO SUN
1 WHEN WILL SPACECRAFT ARRIVE?
As soon as this fall, the Parker Solar Probe will fly through the wispy edges of the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, that was visible during last August’s total solar eclipse. It eventually will get within 6 million kilometres of the surface in the years ahead, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun.
2 WON’T IT BURN UP?
The spacecraft is protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders. The heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures. Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times. If there’s any tilting, the spacecraft will correct itself so nothing gets fried. The Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking.
3 WHAT’S THE MISSION?
Scientists hope to unlock such mysteries as: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun’s atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating?
4 UNPRECEDENTED, EH?
The probe will start shattering records this fall. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 25 million kilometres, easily beating the current record of 43 million kilometres set by NASA’s Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976. By 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and travelling at 690,000 kilometres per hour.
5 WHO IS PARKER?
Astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, proposed the existence of solar wind — a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun — 60 years ago.