Published: Sat, August 11, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Spacewatch: Firing up for a close encounter with the sun

Spacewatch: Firing up for a close encounter with the sun

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, one of the project scientists and a professor at the University of MI. "To send it into such brutal conditions is highly ambitious", said Nicola Fox, a project scientist from the Johns Hopkins University applied physics laboratory.

The mission Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, the closest any man-made instrument has ever got to a star.

On each close approach to the sun, the probe will sample the solar wind, study the sun's corona, and provide close-up observations from around the star. While granting us life, the sun also has the power to disrupt spacecraft in orbit, and communications and electronics on Earth.

The probe's mission is to dip into the solar atmosphere and deduce how the rarefied gasses there are heated to millions of degrees centigrade when the solar surface itself is just 6,000°C.

Eugene Parker, 91, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago. It's the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who's still alive. "Our first fly-by to Venus is in the fall, in September".

"According to a statement from Nasa, the probe is due to orbit within six-and-a-half million kilometres of the Sun's "surface", where the probe will "(face) heat and radiation unlike any spacecraft in history". The spacecraft is now scheduled to launch tomorrow (Aug. 11) at 3:33 a.m. (0733 GMT). "With each orbit, we'll be seeing new regions of the sun's atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we've wanted to explore for decades."Over the course of its seven-year mission, the probe will orbit the sun 24 times, each time sweeping through the corona, where the temperature is a blistering 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 1,400 degrees Celsius)".

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Helios 2 got within 43 million km of the sun in 1976.

The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

The car-sized Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to blast off on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida early on Saturday.

That's a relatively light spacecraft.

Nasa says the TPS has been tested to withstand up to 1,650C temperatures and "can handle any heat the sun can send its way".

The Parker Solar Probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker, will, as the U.S. space agency describes it, "touch the sun" as it flies within 3.9 million miles of the star's surface.

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