NASA’S LATEST PROBE WILL UNLOCK THE SECRETS OF THE SUN
(And Save Us From Solar Flares)
It is 1958. The US government has just founded the nation’s first space agency, NASA. In another 10 years, the first astronaut will set foot on the Moon, making the organization synonymous with mankind’s greatest achievement in space. However, the scientists of the new agency are not dreaming of the Moon, they have their sights on a much more interesting heavenly body: the yellow gas ball at the centre of our solar system. Ever since the 1940s, when astronomers discovered that a series of inexplicable phenomena are taking place in the Sun’s red-hot sea of plasma, i t has aroused their professional appetite. One of the major mysteries is how the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, can be millions of degrees warmer than the underlying surface, which is the source of the heat. Now, 60 years later, NASA has built the Parker Solar probe, which is full of newly developed cooling technologies and heat-resistant materials. Finally, the space agency can achieve one of its oldest aims: making a probe touch the Sun’s redhot atmosphere.
ASTRONOMER DISCOVERED SOLAR WIND
The probe is the first ever to be named after a living person. In 1957, 30-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker from the Enrico Fermi Institute of the University of Chicago was working hard on the mathematical formulas for a scientific article about solar radiation. In the article, he described, how the Sun emits a flow of charged particles, becoming the first physicist to describe the phenomenon of solar wind.
Parker’s theory was controversial in the world of science, and his scientific article was severely criticised by the physicists who were to approve it for publication in the Astrophysical Journal. But nobody could find any errors in his formulas, and more than 10 years later, Parker’s theories about the existence of solar wind were confirmed by observations made by the Mariner 2 space probe in 1962. The discovery led to new scientific fascination with the Sun and triggered a series of questions, which scientists have tried to answer ever since, but in vain. Which processes inside the Sun pro-duce solar wind? How does the plasma in the Sun’s corona move, and which mechanisms are responsible for the Sun’s extreme particle acceleration?
According to plan, the Parker Solar probe will be launched in August on a seven years journey,
NASA PROBE ORBIT EARTH MERCURY THE SUN CLOSEST PASSAGE: Distance to the Sun: 5.9 million km Highest temperature: 1,377 °C Radiation: 475 times that on Earth VENUS