Sunday 19 January 2020

Here comes the sun: Nasa probes fiery neighbour

The probe will study solar storms
The probe will study solar storms

Henry Bodkin

NASA will fly a spacecraft directly towards the Sun in a bid to unlock the secrets of solar storms that play havoc with satellites and power supplies.

The unmanned probe will travel to within four million miles of the star's surface, inside its corona, or outer layer, and will have to withstand temperatures of almost 1,400C.

Set to launch next year, the Parker Solar Probe promises to "revolutionise" mankind's understanding of the Sun and the origins of physics, scientists said, as well as helping protect equipment from solar radiation.

It will travel more than seven times closer to the surface than any previous flight during a seven-year mission comprising 24 orbits.

The craft will reach its destination via a tortuous series of manoeuvres, using the gravity of Venus to slow to a "controlled" half-a-million miles per hour.

NASA is relying on a 4.5-inch heat shield to protect the probe's suite of instruments from the brutal heat.

Once inside the corona, equipment will attempt to "taste" and "smell" electronic particles while they are still moving slowly enough to be measured. The craft will also carry telescopes with which scientists hope to gain close-up images of the Sun.

Astronomer Royal Martin Rees said: "It will be a great technological achievement to gather data so close to the Sun and to beam it back without the antenna melting.

"In-situ measurements made in this ultra-hostile environment will tell us things about ultra-hot gas and magnetic fields that we can't learn from terrestrial experiments."

Irish Independent

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