NASA counts down to launch of first spacecraft to 'touch Sun'

Christopher Davidson
August 10, 2018

"In addition to using a powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, Parker Solar Probe will perform seven Venus gravity assists over its seven-year mission to shed sideways speed into Venus' well of orbital energy".

The car-sized probe, which will fly closer to the sun than any other man-made object, is set to blast off at 3:33am eastern daylight time (8:33am BST) from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 11.

Nasa's new solar spacecraft is so indestructable that parts of it will be circling the Sun until the Solar System ends, eight billion years from now, scientists have said. It is expected to approach the sun in 2024.

This will be within 6 million kilometres of the sun's surface, closer than any other spacecraft has been before.

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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. The spacecraft and its suite of delicate instruments will be protected from the sun's extreme heat by a carbon fiber heat shield. The probe will contain four instrument packages created to, among other things, trace the movement of energy and heat within the corona and help scientists figure out what accelerates solar energetic particles and solar wind.

This is a phenomenon that has baffled NASA scientists because the sun's atmosphere "gets much, much hotter the farther it stretches from the sun's blazing surface".

Image: The spacecraft can withstand enormous heat.

If scientists understand more about solar activity, they could use it to predict large solar eruptions that pose a threat to satellites orbiting the Earth.

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