12Aug2018

NASA Solar Probe Will Touch The Sun

Artist’s impression of NASA’s Solar Probe Plus spacecraft on approach to the sun. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Artist’s impression of NASA’s Solar Probe Plus spacecraft on approach to the sun. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

In untold ways, humanity remains as clueless about our own star as it was a generation ago.  But that should change soon after the successful August 2018 launch of NASA ’s Solar Probe Plus (SPP).

Its a $1.5 billion spacecraft that will travel closer to its surface than any previous man-made object. Nearly 60 years after NASA first discussed sending a suicide probe into the Sun itself, the space agency is making good on a probe that will travel nearly ten times closer to our star than the planet Mercury.

The hope is that, in the process, SPP will provide new data about the Sun’s effects on everything from space weather to short term climate change.

Solar Probe Plus spacecraft bus structure in the integration facility at the Applied Physics Lab. Credit Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Lab

Over a period of seven years and 24 close elliptical solar orbits, SPP and its 10 thermally-shielded science instruments will skirt our star’s roiling hot corona (or outer atmosphere).  Using seven Venus flybys to continually get closer to the Sun, the spacecraft will have to survive temperatures exceeding 2500 degrees F. and impacts from hypervelocity dust particles.

SPP will aim to answer two nagging questions in solar physics:  Why is the Sun’s corona so much hotter than its visible photosphere (or surface)?  And what actually accelerates the solar wind that creates the space weather that affects us all?

The first close approach at only 35.7 solar radii from the Sun’s center will happen just over three months after launch, Ralph McNutt, chief scientist for space science at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab and a SPP team lead, told me.

SPP will aim to answer two nagging questions in solar physics:  Why is the Sun’s corona so much hotter than its visible photosphere (or surface)?  And what actually accelerates the solar wind that creates the space weather that affects us all?

The first close approach at only 35.7 solar radii from the Sun’s center will happen just over three months after launch, Ralph McNutt, chief scientist for space science at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab and a SPP team lead, told me.   Source: Bruce Dorminey c/o Forbes

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