NASA ready to launch the world’s first mission to the Sun in 2018, that will explore its atmosphere and answer questions about solar physics that have puzzled scientists for over six decades.
Parker Solar Probe (previously Solar Probe, Solar Probe Plus, or Solar Probe+) is a planned NASA robotic spacecraft to probe the outer corona of the Sun.
It will approach to within 8.5 solar radii (5.9 million kilometers or 3.67 million miles) to the ‘surface’ (photosphere) of the Sun.
The Parker Solar Probe has been named in honour of pioneering astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who predicted the existence of the solar wind nearly 60 years ago.
The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, is loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the Sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface.
Parker Solar Probe will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions — and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star, NASA said.
To perform these unprecedented investigations, the spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the Sun’s heat by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.
Many NASA missions have continued to focus on this complex space environment defined by our star — a field of research known as heliophysics.
The term heliophysics means “physics of the Sun” (the prefix “helio”, from Attic Greek hḗlios, means Sun), and appears to have been used only in that sense until quite recently.