Tampa (AFP) – The first ever spacecraft to fly immediately towards the Sun is poised to blast off Saturday, on a mission to plunge into our star’s scorching atmosphere and unlock the mysteries of the middle of the photo voltaic system.
NASA’s car-sized, $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida throughout a 65-minute launch window that opens at three:33 am (0733 GMT).
By coming nearer to the Sun than any spacecraft in historical past, the unmanned probe’s fundamental objective is to unveil the secrets and techniques of the corona, the weird atmosphere across the Sun.
“We are going to be in an area that is so exciting, where solar wind — we believe — will be accelerating,” mentioned NASA planetary science division director Jim Green.
“Where we see huge magnetic fields that are passing by us, as coronal mass ejections make their way out into the solar system.”
Not solely is the corona about 300 instances hotter than the Sun’s floor, however it additionally hurls plasma and energetic particles that may unleash geomagnetic house storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the facility grid.
But these photo voltaic outbursts are poorly understood.
“The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth,” mentioned Justin Kasper, a undertaking scientist and professor on the University of Michigan.
Knowing extra in regards to the photo voltaic wind and house storms may also assist shield future deep house explorers as they journey towards the Moon or Mars.
– ‘Full of mysteries’ –
The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful warmth defend that’s simply four.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick.
The defend ought to allow the spacecraft to survive its shut shave with the fiery star, coming inside three.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun’s floor.
The warmth defend is constructed to face up to radiation equal to up to about 500 instances the Sun’s radiation on Earth.
Even in a area the place temperatures can attain greater than 1,000,000 levels Fahrenheit, the daylight is anticipated to warmth the defend to simply round 2,500 levels Fahrenheit (1,371 levels Celsius).
Scorching, sure? But if all works as deliberate, the within of the spacecraft ought to keep at simply 85 levels Fahrenheit.
The objective for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona throughout its seven-year mission.
“The sun is full of mysteries,” mentioned Nicky Fox, undertaking scientist on the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
“We are ready. We have the perfect payload. We know the questions we want to answer.”
– 91-year-old namesake –
The instruments on board will measure the increasing corona and frequently flowing atmosphere often called the photo voltaic wind, which photo voltaic physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.
Parker, now 91, recalled that at the beginning some folks didn’t consider in his idea.
But then, the launch of NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 — turning into the primary robotic spacecraft to make a profitable planetary encounter — proved them incorrect.
“It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind,” Parker mentioned earlier this week.
Parker mentioned he was “impressed” by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it “a really complicated machine.”
Scientists have needed to construct a spacecraft like this for greater than 60 years, however solely lately did the warmth defend expertise advance sufficient to be able to defending delicate devices, in accordance to Fox.
Tools on board will measure high-energy particles related to flares and coronal mass ejections, in addition to the altering magnetic subject across the Sun.
“We will also be listening for plasma waves that we know flow around when particles move,” Fox added.
“And last but not least, we have a white light imager that is taking images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun.”
When it nears the Sun, the probe will journey quickly sufficient to go from New York to Tokyo in a single minute — some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the quickest human-made object.