Watch NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Launch

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will fly through the punishing heat of the sun’s outer atmosphere.Published On
Kenneth Chang

On Saturday, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be scheduled to launch via Cape Canaveral, Fla. The space agency will be touting This kind of as a mission “to touch the sun.” Here will be some background information about the Parker mission.

Why would likely anyone want to touch the sun?

The spacecraft will eventually pass within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface. that will may still sound like quite a ways, yet This kind of’s close enough to skim through the sun’s outer atmosphere. Four million miles will be about one-tenth the distance between the sun as well as also also Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system.

The Parker Solar Probe will be designed to expand our understanding of the sun, measuring electrical as well as also also magnetic fields, cataloging the ingredients of the solar wind as well as also also photographing the corona — the outer atmosphere that will will be millions of degrees hotter than the sun’s surface. Instruments on the spacecraft will be able to detect details that will cannot be seen via farther away.

At its closest approach, the outside of the spacecraft will reach 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, or about the melting temperature of steel. yet a 8-foot-wide carbon composite shield will absorb the intense heat as well as also also keep the spacecraft as well as also also its instruments cool. The foam inside shield will be so fluffy — 97 percent empty space — that will This kind of adds only 0 pounds of weight.

What will be solar wind?

A stream of charged particles — primarily protons as well as also also electrons — continuously flows outward via the sun through the solar system at a speed of about a million miles per hour. Earth’s magnetic field generates a bubble that will deflects the solar wind around our planet as well as also also generates the beautiful aurora borealis, also known as the Northern as well as also also Southern lights, that will flicker at night inside polar regions.

Solar wind originates inside corona, yet how This kind of will be generated will be not fully understood. The surface of the sun will be about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The Parker Solar Probe will be supposed to fill in many of the blanks.

The Parker Solar Probe on July 30, encapsulated as well as also also producing its way to Cape Canaveral.CreditKim Shiflett/NASA

Why do we care about solar wind?

This kind of could devastate civilization.

Occasionally, a huge explosion, called a coronal mass ejection, erupts via the sun, sending a larger-than-usual deluge of particles into space. In 1859, one of those explosions made a direct hit on Earth, disrupting telegraph wires in America as well as also also Europe. If the same thing happened today, This kind of could cause continentwide blackouts, damaging transformers on the electrical grid, potentially requiring months to years to repair.

[Sign up to get reminders for space as well as also also astronomy events on your calendar.]

In 2012, one of NASA’s sun-watching spacecraft, Stereo-A, detected an explosion comparable to the 1859 explosion. Fortunately, This kind of was not aimed in Earth’s direction.

How big will be the spacecraft?

The Parker Solar Probe will be fairly tiny for a spacecraft, about the size of a car as well as also also weighing 1,500 pounds at launch.

Work being done on the probe at Astrotech Space Operations in Titusville, Fla., in July.CreditNasa/EPA, via Shutterstock

Why does This kind of need a big rocket?

The spacecraft needs to be accelerated to a high enough speed to break away via Earth’s gravity as well as also also enter orbit around the sun. Thus, This kind of will be launching on top of a Delta 4 rocket, one of the most powerful currently available.