The Parker Probe will undertake the closest ever observation of the Earth's sun.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on July 18, 2018

Scheduled for launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on 4 August, NASA’s robotic spacecraft will eventually travel into the low solar corona within six million kilometres of the star. It will make its first entrance into the corona in November this year.

It is hoped the spacecraft will add significantly to scientific understanding of the Sun and its atmosphere. The information it gathers could have implications for our knowledge of solar wind and ultimately our ability to forecast changes in both space weather and the Earth’s environment.

Parker Probe: a high tech new spacecraft

The spacecraft has been engineered to withstand incredible levels of heat and radiation in the Sun’s atmosphere. Temperatures outside the spacecraft will reach up to 1377 degrees celsius. NASA has equipped the probe with a carbon-based heat shield which will move to protect the spacecraft and its instruments from radiation which will be up to 475 times as stronger than that found in the Earth’s orbit.

NASA has also designed the probe to use repeated gravity assists at Venus which will decrease its orbital perihelion and allow it to make multiple orbits of the Sun to gather information.

It will also be able to observe solar wind transitioning from subsonic to supersonic speeds and it will travel through the birthplace of the highest energy solar particles.

NASA’s Parker Probe about to embark on a seven year exploration mission

Parker will orbit the sun for more than seven years travelling at speeds of around 700,000 kilometres per hour. It will be the fastest human-made object in the solar system and could travel from Sydney to London in nine seconds. It will eventually complete more than 25 circuits of the sun.

The probe will be the size of a small car and has equipment to take 3-D images, gauge electric and magnetic fields and gather data about high-energy particles.

NASA’s first mission to the Sun is named after Eugene Parker

The spacecraft is named after Eugene Parker, an astrophysicist at the University of Chicago. Back in 1958, Parker published his theory that the sun is constantly sending out particles and energy. This theory has now been proven and the phenomena he described is now known as solar wind. His work significantly advanced understanding of how celestial bodies interact with objects that orbit around them.

It marks the first time NASA has ever named a spacecraft after a living researcher.