We Can Finally Touch the Sun?
The American space agency (Nasa) is all set to launch one of the most daring ventures in its history. It’s going to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any mission has done before. The Parker Solar Probe will dip directly into our star’s outer atmosphere, or corona.
The spacecraft’s data promises to crack longstanding mysteries about the Sun’s behaviour – assuming it can survive roasting temperatures above 1,000C. Parker will begin its quest with a ride on a mammoth Delta-IV Heavy rocket. This powerful vehicle is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday.
“I realize that might not sound that close, but imagine the Sun and the Earth were a meter apart. Parker Solar Probe would be just 4cm away from the Sun,” explained Dr Nicky Fox, the British-born project scientist who is affiliated to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “We’ll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h – New York to Tokyo in under a minute!”
A mission like Parker was first proposed 60 years ago, but it’s only now that engineers have the technology available to keep a probe safe so close to the Sun. Nearly everything on the spacecraft must sit behind an 11.5cm-thick carbon-composite sun-shield. This will maintain all parts behind the barrier at a tolerable 30C.