Published: Sat, August 11, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

Mission to the sun lifts off Saturday morning

Mission to the sun lifts off Saturday morning

NASA is preparing to launch its Parker Solar Probe in the early hours on Saturday morning. While we don't have technology that would survive the sun's surface heat of 2 to 3 million degrees Fahrenheit, the Parker probe has heat shields that will protect it from the temperatures it will face, about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Its mission is to help scientists unlock the mysteries of the sun's atmosphere and answer questions like why its corona, the outermost layer of the solar atmosphere, is hotter than its surface.

The last time a man-made object came close to the star's surface was in 1976 when Helios 2 achieved perihelion, point of the orbit at which it was closest to the sun, at 27 million miles.

The probe will conduct 24 orbits to approach the sun. The probe, which is described as the size of a small auto, features a 4.5-inch thick carbon fiber and foam shield that will help protect the spacecraft from the Sun's intense heat.

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The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer be able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the Sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 deg F (29 deg C).

"The coolest, hottest mission, baby, that's what it is", said Nicola Fox, the project scientist at Johns Hopkins University.

At 3.33 am EDT (1.33 pm IST) on August 11, Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be upto something really hot and exciting.

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The spacecraft will hit 6,90,000 kmph in the corona at closest approach. The 91-year-old scientist will be present to view the launch when the spacecraft takes off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Nestled atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy - one of the world's most powerful rockets - with a third stage added, Parker Solar Probe will blast off toward the Sun with a whopping 55 times more energy than is required to reach Mars. But it can withstand 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) as well as extreme radiation, thanks to its high-tech carbon.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - 700,000kmh - making it the fastest human-made object.

A LEARNING OPPORTUNITY. Ultimately, the more we can learn about the Sun, the better.

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