NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will plunge into the sun’s corona later today making history
NASA’s car-sized Parker solar probe will plunge into the sun TODAY and battle temperatures of 1,300°C as the ground-breaking mission to our star heats up.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will plunge into the sun’s corona later today making history as it continues its fiery descent towards our star.
The Parker probe, roughly the size of a family hatchback, has already come closer to the sun than any other man-made object and is now just 15 million miles (24 million km) away from its surface.
It will enter into its second of 24 solar encounters at approximately 11.40pm BST (6.40pm EDT) today and contend with extreme cosmic radiation – 500 times more intense than on Earth – and temperatures of 1,300°C (2,400°F).
Current estimates predict it will be traveling at 213,200 mph (343,000 kph) – fast enough to fly between New York and London 39 times in one hour. The probe entered the sun’s orbit in November and has been approaching steadily closer ever since. Its final pass in 2024 will be just 3.8 million miles (6.1m km) from its surface when it will burn up.
NASA designed the probe to protect its fragile internal instruments from the harsh conditions and deflect most of the sun’s heat.
The US space agency hopes to maintain an internal temperature of 29°C (84°F) and take vital measurements of the corona to unpick the mystique surrounding our closest star.
For example, scientists are expecting to receive vital data to help explain a long-standing mystery among physicists – why the corona is 300 hotter than the sun’s surface.
Our star still poses many unanswered questions, chief among them how it is capable of producing such violent plumes of material, known as solar flares or coronal mass ejections.
These ions – charged particles – travel at extraordinary speeds, up to half the speed of light, before swamping all objects in the solar system and dousing them in potentially fatal radiation.
Earth is protected by these by our planet’s thick atmosphere and strong magnetic field and, for the most part, they only manifest themselves as auroras at the north and south poles.
Stronger events are capable of affecting electronics on Earth, with GPS and other satellite-reliant services affected.
‘Parker Solar Probe is providing us with the measurements essential to understanding solar phenomena that have been puzzling us for decades,’ said Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Maryland.
‘To close the link, the local sampling of the solar corona and the young solar wind is needed and Parker Solar Probe is doing just that.’