There may be nothing new under the Sun, but an adventure planned for this summer may reveal new things about the planet itself.
Sometime between July 31 and August 19, a Delta IV-Heavy launch vehicle will make a night launch from Kennedy Space Center. It will carry the Parker Solar Probe, years in the making.
The probe itself is very small and light. It is also self-correcting and autonomous. Every aspect of the probe’s design was developed with the 3 million-degree plasma environment of the outer corona in mind.
This seven-year mission to “touch the Sun” will take humans closer to the planet’s surface than any spacecraft before it, withstanding brutal heat and radiation. Its goal is to reveal the mysteries of the corona, such as why temperatures rise farther from the surface and how solar winds continually accelerate.
The mission should improve our space weather forecasting, helping us understand solar winds, flares, and tons of highly magnetized material that erupt from the Sun at millions of miles an hour. A massive solar flare in 1859 took out telegraph systems throughout North America and Europe. A storm of similar magnitude today would disrupt and damage our connectivity and communications.
Why Parker? The probe is named for an astrophysicist from the University of Chicago, Eugene Parker. In the 1950s, Parker theorized that the Sun gives off energy, which he dubbed a solar wind. He also theorized about why the corona is hotter than the Sun’s surface. This is the first time NASA has named a mission for a living individual.
NASA has reached out to the public with a special opportunity to join the mission. Send your name to the Sun. Names submitted to NASA by April 27 will be added to a microchip that will travel onboard the Parker Solar Probe. To add your name, visit http://go.nasa.gov/HotTicket
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