NASA spacecraft will touch the surface of the Sun

NASA will launch a probe this weekend that will break two world records: It will travel faster and fly closer to the sun's surface than has any spacecraft in human history.
By Rick Docksai | Aug 11, 2018
NASA will launch a satellite Saturday morning on a first-of-its-kind mission to take an up-close look with the surface of the sun. The Eugene Parker, named after a retired astrophysicist who pioneered study of the sun and discovered solar wind, will venture nearer to our solar system's star than any space probe has in spaceflight history.

"It's my first rocket launch, so that will be very interesting," said Parker, who will be at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to personally watch the space probe's launch. "I hope the launch is successful, and that the spacecraft does what it's expected to do."

It will also be the fast spacecraft ever, according to Nicola Fox, a Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory researcher and the mission's project scientist. She said that its flight path will average 430,000 miles an hour, or 118 miles a second, breaking every past spaceflight speed record "by an awful lot." Even so, Fox estimates that the Eugene Parker will take seven years to arrive at the sun.

The Eugene Parker will fly through the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, and reach zones where temperatures average 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit or higherhot enough to melt steel and lead. But it will be room temperature inside the probe, due to a protective 4.5 inches-thick foam shield encasing the vessel and safeguarding its internal instruments.

NASA scientists hope that the mission will help resolve questions such as why the corona can reach temperatures 300 times as high as those of the sun's surface and what makes solar wind accelerate as it leaves the sun. Fox said that the findings may enable them to better forecast solar wind and other sun activity that impacts life on Earth and space missions, and they may additionally gain new understanding of the fundamental physics of stars.

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