Wednesday, 23 August, 2017

NASA spacecraft will aim straight for sun next year

Cat Frink  The Torch Cat Frink The Torch
Heather Davidson | 01 June, 2017, 01:39

NASA has announced its mission to "touch the sun" has been renamed after the American solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker-the first time a NASA mission has been named after a living scientist.

The Parker Solar Probe, slated to launch no earlier than July 31, 2018, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is roughly the size of a small vehicle.

The Parker Solar Probe will have to survive temperatures as high as 2,500 Fahrenheit (1,371 Celsius), impacts by supersonic particles and powerful radiation as it circles as close as 4 million miles (7 million km) to the sun. This mission will explore the sun's outer surface and make many critical observations.

Details will be revealed during an event on Wednesday, May 31 at 11 a.m.in the University of Chicago's William Eckhardt Research Center Auditorium. The heat shield was developed using a carbon-carbon composite and will be required to withstand temperature extremes - from the heat of the corona, up to 2,500 degrees F, to the cold of space. His discovery of solar wind has essentially changed our understanding of stars and how they interact with the space around them.

Nicola Fox, a scientist involved with the Parker Solar Probe project, claimed that the probe "is going to answer questions about solar physics that we've puzzled over for more than six decades". He is about to turn 90, and this is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a researcher during their lifetime.

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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 corona is a very active part of the sun, producing solar wind, solar flares and coronal mass ejections, all of which influence space weather and conditions on Earth. And it's all thanks to the Sun's outer atmosphere, or the corona.

The plan for the unmanned spacecraft is to orbit within 3.9 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) of the sun's surface.

Enter the Parker Solar Probe. While 4m miles might sound like a sizeable distance from the sun, it corresponds to under 10 solar radii. More specifically, it's launching an unmanned probe next year that will travel closer to the star than any spacecraft has done previously. The solar probe, which the Applied Physics Laboratory is building, will endure a solar intensity more than 500 times greater than that of an Earth-orbiting spacecraft.

"As a theoretician, I greatly admire the scientists and engineers whose patient efforts together converted the solar probe concept into a functioning reality", Parker said, "ready to do battle with the solar elements as it divulges the secrets of the expanding corona".

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