NASA to launch a mission to “touch” the Sun in 2018

NASA announced today the launch in 2018 of the probe Parker, which will approach more than any other instrument to the Sun, touch its crown and perform measurements in a region of extreme temperatures never explored directly.

NASA today explained that probe Parker, named after Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist who developed the theory of supersonic solar winds, will approach 6 million kilometers of the solar surface at a speed that will reach 200 kilometers per second .

For the first time a mission will dare to enter the solar corona, a region full of mysteries, reaching temperatures much higher than the surface of the “king star”, and that continues to hide secrets that only the astrophysical theory has dared to answer, Acceleration of the solar winds.

Parker, who is present today in the announcement made by the University of Chicago, emphasized that this mission is a “heroic” milestone that until recently was unthinkable due to the massive amounts of radiation, temperatures and speeds that will be subjected to the delicate measurement equipment.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s chief of missions, said that in honor of Parker, whose theories since 1958 have been the basis for studying the behavior of the Sun, the agency has christened for the first time a mission named after a still living scientist .

Launching a spacecraft approaching the Sun is a complicated undertaking, as the spacecraft must accelerate as far as possible to escape the orbital velocity of the earth, which will require the use of a Delta IV Heavy rocket, the most powerful in service, And the inclusion of a third phase of propulsion.

In addition, the probe must perform a complicated combination of orbits near Venus for seven years to get as close as possible to the Sun and to traverse an area of ​​the star that is only visible during total eclipses.

“Just so far the materials for this mission to be possible did not exist,” said Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, who is responsible for developing part of the probe components.

Several probes launched since the 1960s have confirmed theories about the sun’s magnetic field and the existence of solar winds, and have made it possible to observe the behavior of the solar corona, which reaches temperatures higher than the solar surface. Fully understood.

The Parker spacecraft will travel seven times closer to the Sun than any other human ingenuity and with an instrument cluster will measure electromagnetic fields, solar winds and the extremely hot plasma structure surrounding the sun.

Scientists have been able to develop a carbon shield for the probe that can protect measuring instruments, operating at temperatures similar to those on Earth, at temperatures above 1300 degrees Celsius.

NASA, in collaboration with John Hopkins University, is still working on the development of the latest probe components, including solar panels that are hidden when they get too close to the sun.

The window for the launch to be successful and to get the proper orbit will open for 20 days in July 2018, when the Delta IV rocket is expected to take off to carry out a $ 1.5 billion budgeted project.

The study of the sun and solar winds is vital to establish early warning systems for solar storms capable of disrupting satellite systems or even causing blackouts.

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