NASA Announces New Mission to Touch the Sun

first_imgStay on target Tune In As Brad Pitt Speaks With NASA Astronaut on ISSNASA Says 2 Asteroids Will Safely Fly By Earth This Weekend The National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced this week that an upcoming mission would be named Eugene Parker. Parker was responsible for discovering solar wind. Fitting, because the mission that bears his name will try to “touch” the sun and learn as much as it can about the constant stream of particles and radiation that we describe as “wind.” NASA has been doing a lot of interesting testing lately.The mission will launch aboard a Delta IV Heavy — currently the most powerful rocket still in use. After that, it will take a whopping seven years to get near and nearer the sun. It will do several Venusian flybys that will ultimately take it eight times closer than any craft has ever been — a mere 3.7 million miles.The mission will take some time to set-up because while you’d think it’d be easy to just ‘fall’ towards the sun, orbital mechanics aren’t so forgiving. As you fall, you exchange gravitational potential energy for kinetic energy, in essence, helping you pick up loads of speed. But the faster something travels, the higher the orbit it wants to settle into. That’s what causes comets and the like to take very long, elliptical orbits. In any case, if you fall too hard, you’ll either crash into the sun or get slung out of the system entirely. So, while they seem easier, trips to the inner solar system are insanely complex.If all that goes well, though, the Parker Solar Probe, as it has been dubbed, will take samples of the sun’s atmosphere and send as much data as it can back to Earth. At just four million miles, the probe would technically be in the highest layers of the sun’s atmosphere. And that’s a much rougher place than it sounds. The upper atmosphere, known as the corona, or crown, is actually much, much hotter than the surface, for one. That’s thanks to the sound energy — yes sound energy — that the sun’s constant churning, exploding surface gives off. This is also where you’ll find solar storms and all kinds of bad stuff.That’s exactly why we need to study it, too. Solar weather can have big consequences for us here on Earth. It messes with our power grid, can damage sensitive electronics, and take out satellites. It’s essential that as our world becomes more and more dependent upon electronics and communications technology, we need to know more about what causes these storms, how we can predict them and what we might do to protect ourselves.Parker will try to trace the origins of solar flares and the like — following the flow of energy within our star. Getting that close requires special solar shields that the craft will deploy en route. It even has two sets of solar panels — one for when it’s out a decent amount, and a second, smaller set that is specially designed for the high-energy environment near our star.On its approach, the Parker probe will also top out at nearly 120 miles per second, making it by far the fastest man-made object ever created. Truly this is landmark mission. So much so that NASA’s official mission renaming ceremony, is the first time the organization has ever named a craft after a living person.Eugene Parker just recently celebrated his 90th birthday, and while the probe will launch next year, NASA took the opportunity to go a little early. (Read more on NASA probes here) Their reasoning being that Parker’s work (the bulk of which dates back to the 50s) was so critical to the mission that everyone thought it best not to wait. In any case, we won’t get the first really substantial data back from Parker for years, but we’ve got a lot to look forward to and to expect from this record-breaking spacecraft.last_img

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