First space­craft to ‘touch’ the sun

Red-hot voy­age to the sun will bring us closer to our star and to long-sought an­swers

StarMetro Edmonton - - WORLD - Mar­cia Dunn

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

JOHNS HOP­KINS APL/NASA

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.

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