Historic Parker Solar Probe Launches This Weekend

An artist’s rendering of the Parker Solar Probe nearing the Sun

Humanity's first visit to a star begins this weekend.

The United States space agency NASA is preparing to launch a probe on Saturday to study the Sun closer than any other human-made object before, revealing mysteries behind the fiery surface.

The Parker probe will not be the only instrument which will be carefully studying the Sun's atmosphere in order to shed light on these questions over the next 6 years. So we'll launch from from Kennedy on Saturday (August 11) morning on our lovely Delta 4 Heavy.

If the probe doesn't launch on Sunday, the window for a successful launch doesn't close until August 23. "When you look at what gets to Earth or to these spacecraft, it's ambiguous".

After launch, the spacecraft will head toward Venus, whose gravity will bend its path into the correct orbit. It's expected to make the first Venus pass at the end of September. It will be used to help slow the probe, like pulling on a handbrake, and orient the probe so it's on a path to the sun.

Tools on board will measure high energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun.

"The prime scientific goal of the mission is to try and understand what we call the solar wind", Halekas said of the flow that involves ionized hydrogen, helium, and electrons.

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The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest. Here there are few molecules to collide with Parker's Sun shield and transfer heat to the device. "We have to understand and characterize this place that we're traveling through".

"We're used to the idea that if I am standing next to a camp fire and I walk away from it, it gets cooler", Young said. We use Venus to give us a gravity assist, if I can have that Venus thing. "As we go from the surface of the Sun, which is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and move up into the corona, we find ourselves quickly at millions of degrees", he said. "It allows the spacecraft to operate at about room temperature". "Something that can withstand the extreme hot and cold temperature shifts of its 24 orbits is revolutionary". The answer lies in the same fact that keeps Earth from plunging into the Sun: Our planet is traveling very fast - about 67,000 miles per hour - nearly entirely sideways relative to the Sun.

Why send a probe to the sun? .

"As a technological society, what comes toward the earth matters", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's science missions. It screams past Earth at a million miles per hour, and disturbances can cause disruptive space weather that impacts our planet. "We know the questions we want to answer".

But what part of this mission will "touch" the sun? "However, we did not have the technology that could protect a spacecraft and its instruments from the heat", said Adam Szabo, the mission scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The cup will glow red when the probe makes its closest approach to the sun, sampling the solar wind and effectively touching the sun. By operating so close to the Sun, it will be passing through an environment with enormous radio interference.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe is set to launch early Sunday morning, on an ambitious new mission to attempt what has never been attempted before - to "touch" the Sun. Furthermore, some solar particles manage to accrue enough energy in the corona to reach half the speed of light, yet the mechanisms behind this phenomenon are unclear. Sometimes, some of these particles escape from our star's atmosphere, and spread throughout the solar system.

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