NASA sending spacecraft straight into sun’s glittering crown

Nasa prepares daring mission to 'touch the Sun'

NASA's Parker Solar Probe will fly closer to the sun than any other man-made object

After that late September flyby, the Parker should make its first close approach to the sun on November 1 - the first of about two dozen solar passes and seven gravity assists from Venus.

The Parker Solar Probe is named after Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist who discovered the solar wind in the 1950s.

Humanity's first journey to the sun will go down in history for several pioneering achievements.

The car-sized Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to blast off on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida early Saturday. "However, we did not have the technology that could protect a spacecraft and its instruments from the heat", said Adam Szabo, the mission scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Mariner 2, a NASA spacecraft en route to Venus, measured energetic particles streaming through interplanetary space - exactly what Dr. Parker had predicted. "Our first fly-by to Venus is in the fall, in September".

This will be the first time that solar scientists can see the objects of their study up close and personal.

Though the side facing the Sun will reach 2500F, the probe itself will be cooler at 85F, says NASA. Why in this region does the solar atmosphere suddenly get so energized that it escapes from the hold of the sun and bathes all of the planets?

It's created to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that's capable of withstanding 1,370 degrees Celsius (2,500 degrees Fahrenheit).

The mission will track how energy and heat move through the solar corona, as well as explore what accelerates the solar wind.

The solar wind, as well as other stellar hiccups like the giant outbursts of plasma that scientists call solar flares and coronal mass ejections, cause a range of phenomena dubbed space weather. Its handlers will gradually bring the probe closer and closer to the sun over its six-year-plus mission, but by the time it begins its final orbits it's going to be moving faster than anything mankind has ever built before.

Sending a spacecraft from Earth to a stationary target like the sun is like trying to throw a dart from a speeding train.

Fortunately, we could be getting answers much sooner than you might think.

"The sun is hot", said project manager Andrew Driesman.

"I'm greatly honored to be associated with such a heroic scientific space mission", Parker said.

NASA detailed that the Sun has 99.8 percent of the mass of the Solar System, and that it is hard to reach it, because to do so it is necessary to use 55 times more energy used to go to Mars. The probe will take NASA scientists closer to the sun than any other spacecraft has ever gone before.

Also on board: more than 1 million names of space fans submitted to NASA this past spring. Among the properties that it will be measuring regularly are the electric and magnetic fields present, along with the velocity, density, and temperature of particles that typically make up solar wind-protons, electrons, and heavier ionized nuclei.

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