NASA to launch first mission to the sun in 2018

Janie Parker
June 1, 2017

Nasa scientists have announced that their first mission to "touch the Sun" will be renamed the Parker Solar Probe, to honour the scientist who first predicted the existence of the solar wind.

A 20-day launch window for the spacecraft's liftoff atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket opens July 31, 2018.

Before the Parker mission, the closest a manmade object has ever been to the sun occurred in 1976, when a probe called Helios 2 orbited the star at a distance of 27 million miles.

As you can imagine, the heat shielding for this probe, which will be seven times closer than any previous mission to the sun, will be extensive. The resulting data will improve forecasts of major space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.

They will now equip the spacecraft with a protective "heat shield" which is made up of thick carbon composite and can resist temperatures of almost 1,400 degrees Celsius.

The probe will fly right into the solar atmosphere, considerably closer to the sun than any other spacecraft, subjecting the probe to brutal heat and radiation like no other man-made structure before. Tucker pointed out that the Kepler Space Telescope is steered by solar winds. Still, the probe is only the most recent tool to help scientists learn more about how the sun works and when it may hurl high-energy particles our way.

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The name: The probe's name has been changed to the Parker Solar Probe to honor astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who's credited with discovering solar wind. It is the first NASA spacecraft to be named after a living individual.

Today, NASA announced that it is naming the spacecraft after Eugene Parker, a retired physicist who predicted the existence of solar winds nearly 60 years ago. The sun's corona is its outer atmosphere, and even though it's over 90 million miles away, it causes solar winds-charged particles that shoot away from the sun, which can produce storms in Earth's magnetosphere.

The probe will reach speeds of 430,000 miles per hour and face temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit in the corona, Time said. It had previously been known as Solar Probe Plus. It will use Venus flybys over the course of seven years and 24 orbits for gravitational assists to get closer and closer to the sun.

This photo taken from the Skylab space station on December 19, 1973, shows one of the most spectacular solar flares ever recorded. NASA is paying about $1.5 billion to build and launch the spacecraft.

The probe is now under construction and undergoing testing, according to Time. But the atmosphere above it is significantly hotter, at a blazing 3.5 million degrees, according to NASA.

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