Monday, July 15, 2024

NASA is preparing for a mission to touch the Sun

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It promises to be a significant moment in the history of space exploration.A year later, on December 24, NASA's Parker Solar Probe will pass in front of the Sun at 195 kilometers per second, or 435,000 miles per hour.

Just 6.1 million kilometers, or 3.8 million miles, from the Sun's “surface” – no other man-made object has moved so fast or approached our star so quickly.

“We're going to land on a star,” Parker Project Scientist Dr. Noor Rawafi said.

“It would be a huge achievement for all of mankind. It would be the equivalent of landing on the moon in 1969,” the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory scientist told BBC News.
Parker's speed comes from the immense gravitational pull he feels as he falls toward the Sun. The journey will be like traveling from New York to London in less than 30 seconds.
One of the most daring missions is NASA's Parker Solar Probe.

It was launched in 2018, with the aim of creating continuous, close orbits of the Sun.

In late 2024 the maneuver will take Parker just 4% of the distance between the Sun and Earth (149 million kilometers/93 million miles).

Parker's challenge in doing so will be significant. At perihelion, the temperature at the front of the spacecraft can reach 1,400°C.

Parker's strategy was to make measurements of the solar atmosphere using an array of instruments spread out behind a thick thermal shield.

Researchers hope the reward could be breakthrough knowledge about some key solar processes.

One of the most important of these explanations is a clear description of how the Sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, works.

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She enjoys looking forward to overheating. The Sun's temperature at its optical surface is about 6000 degrees Celsius, but inside the corona it reaches a million degrees and more.

You might think that temperature decreases with distance from the core of a nuclear star.

And in the corona, the outward stream of charged particles—electrons, protons, and heavy ions—suddenly moves into supersonic wind at 400 km/s, or 1,000,000 miles per hour.

Scientists are still unable to fully explain this. But it is important for improving predictions of solar behavior and “space weather” phenomena.

The latter refers to powerful bursts of particles and magnetic fields from the Sun that can disrupt communications on Earth and destroy power grids. Radiation also poses health risks to astronauts.

Dr Rawafi said: “It takes on a new dimension, especially as we are now thinking about sending men and women to the moon and establishing a permanent presence on the lunar surface.”
Parker's knowledge will benefit space weather forecasters for future manned lunar missions
Parker came closest to the sun on Friday. Three more flybys are planned for 2024 before it orbits Venus on November 6 to bend its orbit and make December 24 a historic event.

NASA's Chief Science Officer is Dr. Nicky Fox. He was Principal Scientist at Parker before assuming his current role.

The main advantage of the December 24 flyby was the length of time the probe spent in Corona, which was much longer than the previous pass.

He told the BBC: “We don't know what we will find, but we will look for waves in the solar wind associated with heating.”

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“I think we're going to feel different kinds of waves that represent a combination of processes that people have been arguing about for years.”
The following year would be the pinnacle of Parker's career. It cannot approach the Sun after December because the wobble of its orbit does not allow Venus to steer its path into a tight path.

But getting closer would also risk shrinking the shadow of Parker's massive shield and exposing the back of the spacecraft to unbearable temperatures.

Stuart Wagner
Stuart Wagner
"Professional coffee fan. Total beer nerd. Hardcore reader. Alcohol fanatic. Evil twitter buff. Friendly tv scholar."

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