Tuesday 26 March 2019

Nasa prepares daring mission to 'touch the Sun'

An artist’s rendering of the Parker Solar Probe nearing the Sun. Photo:/Getty Images
An artist’s rendering of the Parker Solar Probe nearing the Sun. Photo:/Getty Images

Helena Horton

Nasa is preparing to embark on a daring mission to "touch the Sun" on Saturday, aiming to go closer than any other spacecraft has ventured.

The Parker Solar Probe will endure tremendous heat while zooming through the solar corona to study this outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.

The launch is currently targeted for 3.33am EDT (8.33am Irish time), with an extended launch window through to August 23.

"To send a probe where you haven't been before is ambitious. To send it into such brutal conditions is highly ambitious," said Nicola Fox, a project scientist from the Johns Hopkins University applied physics laboratory.

The project, with a $1.5bn (€1.3bn) price tag, is the first major space mission under Nasa's 'Living With a Star' programme. Nasa is hoping to use the data collected from the probe to help astronomers predict solar storms and explain some of the deepest mysteries surrounding our source of light and heat.

According to a statement from Nasa, the probe is due to orbit within six-and-a-half million kilometres of the Sun's "surface", where the probe will "(face) heat and radiation unlike any spacecraft in history".

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, is set to use seven Venus fly-bys over nearly seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments designed to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

Nasa aims to collect data about the highly magnetised corona. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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