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Home / Science / Parker Solar Probe launch Saturday on ‘mission to touch the sun’

Parker Solar Probe launch Saturday on ‘mission to touch the sun’

If everything goes according to plan, the probe will be launched at 3:33 am Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, one of the most powerful rockets in the world. The startup window will remain open for 65 minutes. If the probe is not launched on Saturday, the window for a successful launch does not close until August 23rd.

Although the probe itself is the size of a car, you need a powerful missile to escape the Earth's orbit, change direction and reach the sun.

The launch window was chosen because the spacecraft will rely on Venus to help him reach an orbit around the sun.

Six weeks after the launch, the probe will meet for the first time the gravity of Venus. It will be used to help slow down the probe, like pulling a handbrake, and orient the probe so that it is on a path to the sun.

"The energy of launching to reach the Sun is 55 times that needed to get to Mars, and twice that needed to get to Pluto", Yanping Guo of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who designed the trajectory of the mission, he said in a statement. "During the summer, the Earth and the other planets in our solar system are in the most favorable alignment to allow us to get closer to the Sun."

Getting ready for a trip to the sun

It's not a journey that no human being can do, so NASA is sending a completely autonomous probe closer to the sun than any spaceship ever has reached up.

The probe will have to withstand the heat and radiation never experienced previously by any spacecraft, but the mission will also address questions that can not be answered before. Understanding the sun in more detail can also shed light on the Earth and its place in the solar system, the researchers said.

"We have been studying the Sun for decades, and now we will finally go where the action is," said Alex Young, solar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in a statement.

In order to reach an orbit around the sun, the solar probe Parker will employ seven flights of Venus that will essentially give a gravitational aid, narrowing its orbit over almost seven years.

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The probe will orbit within 3.8 million miles of the surface of the Sun. sun in 2024, near the star of Mercury. Although this seems far away, the researchers equate this to the probe that is on the 4-yard line of a football field and the sun is the final zone.

When they are closer to the sun, 4½-inch-thick carbon composite solar shields will have to withstand temperatures close to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the interior of the spacecraft and its instruments will remain at a comfortable room temperature.

"We have been inside the orbit of Mercury and we have done amazing things, but as long as you do not touch the sun, you can not answer these questions," said Nicola Fox, project scientist. mission. "Why did it take us 60 years?" The materials did not exist to allow us to do so.We had to create a heat shield and we adore it, something that can withstand the extreme cold and temperature changes of its 24 orbits is revolutionary. "

The probe will reach a speed of 430,000 miles around the sun, setting a record for the fastest man-made object. On Earth, this speed would allow someone to get from Philadelphia to Washington in a second, the agency said.

Why send a probe to the sun?

The observations and data could provide information on the physics of the stars, change what we know about the mysterious crown, increase the understanding of the solar wind and help improve the predictions of the main meteorological space events. These events can affect satellites, astronauts and the Earth, including power grids and radiation exposure on airline flights, NASA said.

Solar wind is the flow of gas charged by the sun, present in most of the solar system. It screams over the Earth at a million miles per hour, and disturbances can cause disruptive weather conditions affecting our planet.

Surveys from the National Academy of Sciences have estimated that an unannounced solar event could cause $ 2 trillion in damages in the United States and leave the parts of the country without energy for a year.
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Mission Goals Include "Tracing the Flow of Energy" that warms and accelerates the solar corona and the solar wind, determining the structure and dynamics of the plasma and the magnetic fields at the sources of the solar wind and exploring the mechanisms that accelerate and transport the energy particles. "

Four suites of tools will collect the data needed to answer key questions about the sun. FIELDS will measure the electric and magnetic waves around the probe, WISPR will perform the images, SWEAP will count charged particles and measure their properties and ISOIS will measure the particles through a wide spectrum.

But what part of this mission will "touch" the sun? The Solar Probe, dubbed "the most courageous little instrument", is a sensor that will extend beyond the heat shield to "take samples" of the sun's atmosphere, according to Justin Kasper, principal researcher of the mission and professor of climate, space science and engineering at the University of Michigan. The cup will glow red when the probe gets closer to the sun, sampling the solar wind and effectively touching the sun.

"The point of Alfven is the distance from the Sun beyond which the charged particles that make up the solar wind" I am no longer in contact with the surface of the Sun ", said Kristopher Klein, co-investigator for the probe and assistant professor of the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Lab. "If the Parker solar probe can reach below the point of Alfven, then we can say that the spaceship has entered the solar atmosphere and touched the Sun. "

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The probe will be close enough to watch the solar wind lashing from Subsonic to supersonic It will also pass through the origin of solar particles with the highest energy.

"It will provide us with a better understanding of the environment in which the Earth is located," Klein said. ability to prev Space weather forecasting is as good as the weather forecasts of the years & 70s. If you have a better understanding of the behavior of these solar energy particles, you can make better predictions about when to send astronauts to Mars or protect a satellite before it gets ripped apart by a burst of radiation. "

The end of the mission is scheduled for June 2025. The first data download from the Parker Solar probe is expected at the beginning of December, after the probe reached the first approach of the sun in November.

"In the end, the spacecraft will end the propellant," said Andy Driesman, project manager for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. "The way I like to think about it: between 10 and 20, a carbon disk will float around the sun in orbit, and it will be around the end of the solar system. "

The heritage of Parker

In 2017, the vessel – initially named Solar Probe Plus – was renamed Parker Solar Probe in honor of the astrophysicist Eugene Parker

"This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the direction of the ski mission enters the agency in Washington. "It is a testimony to the importance of his body of work, he establishes a new scientific field that has also inspired my research and many important scientific issues. NASA continues to study and understand further each day, I am very excited to be personally involved in honoring a great man and his unprecedented legacy. "

Parker published research that predicted the existence of the solar wind in 1958, when he was a young professor at the Enrico Fermi Institute of University of Chicago. At that time, astronomers believed that the space between the planets was a void. Parker's first document was rejected, but was rescued by a colleague, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an astrophysicist who was to receive the Nobel Prize in physics in 1983.

Less than two years after Parker's work was published, his theory of the solar wind was confirmed by satellite observations. His work has revolutionized our understanding of the sun and interplanetary space.

Parker is now Professor Emeritus of S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service at the University of Chicago. Zurbuchen and Fox also presented Parker's illustrious NASA public service medal.

"I am very honored to be associated with such a heroic scientific space mission," said Parker.

The Parker solar probe will carry a chip with Parker's photos, his revolutionary card and his message in the sun: "Let's see what awaits us". It will also bring more than 1.1 million names from the public that will eventually "orbit the sun forever," Fox said.

"The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before," said Parker. . "It's very exciting to finally take a look, one would want to have more detailed measurements of what happens in the solar wind, I'm sure there will be surprises, there are always."

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