Car-sized NASA spacecraft nears closest possible point to sun
The Parker Solar Probe, NASA’s car-sized spacecraft whose singular goal was to get closer to the sun than any other mission before it, is reaching its first perihelion.
A perihelion, for those who aren’t encyclopedias of astronomical terms, is the point in an object’s orbit at which it is closest to the sun. For the Parker Solar Probe, the 24 perihelions it is designed to reach are the entire point of its existence.
John Hopkins University released a video explaining more about this pivotal point of the probe’s life.
The mission was delayed a few times to ensure the craft was fully ready for the historic mission that NASA promised “will revolutionise our understanding of the sun”. However, the Parker Solar Probe took off on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on 4 August.
If you’re hoping for immediate results, you’re going to be disappointed. The probe will enjoy seven flybys over seven years, a feat that will gradually bring Parker Solar Probe closer to the sun. The aim is to get the entity as close to the sun as is possible, which is predicted to be around 3.8 million miles to its surface. And if that sounds a long way off, bear in mind the Earth’s average distance to the Sun is 93 million miles.
Parker Space Probe will traverse the corona – the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere – taking measurements and conducting imaging that will provide unprecedented information about that most formidable of stars. In particular, scientists are hoping to bolster knowledge about solar winds and the corona itself, with a view to ameliorating our ability to forecast changes in Earth’s space environment that end up having an impact on day-to-day life and technology.
Meanwhile, if you struggling in UK heatwaves, spare a second for Parker Solar Probe, which will have to withstand climes of 1,377°C (2,500°F). In order for this to happen, NASA has engineered a 4.5in-thick carbon composite shell, which it hopes will shield the spacecraft from the blistering heat. The agency attributes its preliminary successes to “cutting-edge thermal engineering advances” which it believes will “protect the mission on its dangerous journey”.
In a move straight out of the Philip Green school of interiors, the spacecraft is kitted out with four state-of-the-art suites, but rather than deck them in white leather and magnums of Cristal, each suite will be designated to a particular area of study: magnetic fields, plasma, energetic particles, and the solar wind.