First spacecraft to ‘touch’ the sun
Red-hot voyage to the sun will bring us closer to our star and to long-sought answers
CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA.—A redhot voyage to the sun is going to bring us closer to our star than ever before.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be the first spacecraft to “touch” the sun, hurtling through the sizzling solar atmosphere and coming within just 6 million kilometres of the surface.
It’s designed to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that’s capable of withstanding 1,370 C.
Liftoff is set for the predawn hours of Saturday for this first-of-its-kind mission to a star.
“The coolest, hottest mission, baby, that’s what it is,” said Nicola Fox, the project scientist at Johns Hopkins University.
Roughly the size of a small car, Parker will get nearly seven times closer to the sun than previous spacecraft. To snuggle up to the sun, it will fly past Venus seven times over seven years. Each flyby will provide an orbit-shaping gravity boost, drawing it ever closer to the sun and straight into the corona — the sun’s outermost atmosphere.
The closer, the better for figuring out why the corona is hundreds of times hotter than the sun’s surface. Another mystery scientists hope to solve: What drives the solar wind? That’s the steady, supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the corona space in all directions.
“There are missions that are studying the solar wind, but we’re going to get to the birthplace,” Fox said.
Scientists expect the $1.5billion mission to shed light not only on our own sun, but the billions of other yellow dwarf stars — and other types of stars — out there. While granting us life, the sun also has the power to disrupt spacecraft in orbit, and communications and electronics on Earth. Learn more about the probe that was first proposed in 1958 at thestar.com/technology
Roughly the size of a small car, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will get nearly seven times closer to the sun than any previous spacecraft.