NASA has released details of its new ambitious mission and it involves a daredevil spacecraft flying closer to the sun than ever before.
Unveiled at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, where it is being built, the Parker Solar Probe will be about the size of a small car.
The Parker Solar Probe will launch from Earth in June 2018, heading through the sun’s atmosphere
It will launch from Earth in June 2018, heading through the sun’s atmosphere over the course of seven years with the help of gravity assists from Venus.
“We’re going to go into the corona, which is the home to many mysteries that have baffled scientists for decades and decades,” said project scientist Nicola Fox at the lab.
The spacecraft was named after physicist Eugene Parker, who in 1958 predicted the existence of the solar wind. Solar wind is made up of a stream of charged particles originating in the sun that permeates the solar system.
NASA’s mission will study how energy and heat move through the solar corona and explore what accelerates the solar wind to speeds of around a million miles per hour (400km/s).
The probe will fly as close as 3.9 million miles to the sun’s surface, more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has gone before.
To help prepare it for its journey, NASA has developed a heat shield, which was installed last week. When it reaches the sun’s atmosphere it will experience temperatures of 1,370˚C.