NASA’s Parker spacecraft, ready for launch, will do something that has never been attempted before. The probe, in fact, will touch the Sun at about 6.2 million km away from the crazy speed of 700.000 km/h!
The project had already been announced in 2009, but due to the usual budget problems, the launch has been postponed until this year. During his seven-year mission, the Parker spacecraft will approach the sun more and more until it plunges into the solar corona. Thanks to the scientific instruments on board, the probe will study how the corona particles are heated and accelerated, the solar wind dynamics and the dynamics of the coronal magnetic field.
The probe, which will be launched in the coming days with a Delta IV Heavy launcher, will make 24 orbits over 7 years, and the orbits will be corrected thanks to 7 gravitational assists with Venus. The first perihelion is expected in about three months. The Parker probe will experience extreme temperatures, above 1300 ° C, and to survive it has been equipped with a hexagonal heat shield, 11.7 cm thick, made of the same material as the Space Shuttle‘s nose. This material, made of carbon fibers and graphite, is able to maintain its properties up to about 2000 ° C.
The Parker probe, to achieve the scientific objectives of the mission, will carry out many different observations. For example, it will directly measure electric and magnetic fields, radio waves, plasma density and electron temperature. It will study the number and properties of the electrons, protons and helium nuclei present and will also capture direct images of the solar corona and the heliosphere.
Thanks to the Parker probe, the first mission to a star, we will know our Sun and the mechanisms that regulate solar winds much better. Because, after all, we live in the solar atmosphere and we are influenced by its “climate”. The strong solar flares, in fact, can cause disturbances to electronic devices and power lines but also effects on life itself. We must therefore learn to predict the behavior of our star as accurately as possible.