5 THINGS ABOUT MIS­SION TO SUN

Ottawa Citizen - - NEWS -

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.

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