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New NASA solar probe will make history with flight into sun

10 Juin 2017

NASA's first mission to go to the sun, the Parker Solar Probe, is named after Eugene Parker who first theorized that the sun constantly sends out a flow of particles and energy called the solar wind.

"Nasa has never named a spacecraft after a researcher during their lifetime", said Thomas Zurbuchen, the head of Nasa's science mission directorate.

The space agency's Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to depart Earth next summer and make its way to the sun's atmosphere, the corona, about 4 million miles from its surface.

This could improve forecasts of space weather events, which can shake the earth's magnetic field and impact satellite communications, astronaut safety, power grids, and radiation on flights.

An artist's impression of the solar probe spacecraft approaching the Sun.

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The Parker Solar Probe will examine a phenomenon known as a solar wind, which Parker first pointed out in 1958.

Solar Probe Plus will be sent into the sun's atmosphere with a suite of instruments created to gather data that will help researchers better understand the solar corona - a blanket of hot gases that extends millions of kilometres into the solar system.

Travelling at a speed of 430,000 miles per hour, the probe will make seven flybys of the sun over a seven-year period, in what NASA describes as a "mission of extremes". This the first ever spacecraft which will face the extreme heat and radiation coming directly from the sun.

Solar winds are streams generated in the sun's outer layer and are always directed away from its surface. I am sure that there will be some surprises. It will use Venus flybys over the course of seven years and 24 orbits for gravitational assists to get closer and closer to the sun. The space agency believes that the data that is collected after the probe will help astronomers predict solar storms and also hopes that the answer to many mysteries surrounding our source of light and heat may be solved.

"Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we've puzzled over for more than six decades", said Parker Solar Probe Project Scientist Nicola Fox of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

New NASA solar probe will make history with flight into sun