Lift Off: NASA’s mission to the sun and what it all means

Mankind has already explored the moon, mars, and even deep space, but we’re about to lean more about the star that makes life on earth possible. NASA launched its mission to the sun on August 12th. It will get as close as we have ever been to the sun while collecting never before seen data.   

It’s a NASA mission that has people talking around the water cooler. The Parker Space Probe is currently hurtling its way toward the sun with the intention of learning more about the sun and its solar wind that can have affects here on earth. Bob Allen, the planetarium director for the University of La Crosse says, "Sometimes it’s a gently flow, but sometimes you get a massive solar flare that throws a lot of stuff out. What Parker found out that it’s not just the quote on quote, surface stuff coming out of sun spots; these storms. There are coronal mass ejections that throw stuff out." Nicky Fox, a Parker Space Probe scientist from John Hopkins University adds, "Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with the Star Program to explore aspects of the sun-earth system that directly affect life and society. This truly is a mission of extremes."


MORE INFORMATION: NASA details the Parker Space Probe


The temperature of the surface of the sun and its corona is also something we know for sure, but much is left to be discovered. Bob said, "The surface of the sun is about ten thousand degrees fahrenheit. Out in the corona it’s a million or two million degrees. So how does that stuff get out there; that much energy, very low density, but how does it get there? And the keyword is the magnetic fields of the sun and how that interacts with the whole workings of the sun."

The spacecraft will break the speed record, barreling through the sun’s corona at 430,000 miles per hour. So how will the Parker Space Probe withstand all the heat? Well, with a superhero-like shield, of course. A shield that Marvel characters would well, marvel at. Allen adds, "There has to be, first of all, a shield to shield the instruments, but at the same time be able to capture the stuff outside there. So if it weren’t for the shield, the whole spacecraft would melt when it’s closest to the sun in about ten seconds."

That eight foot heat shield will keep the science instruments at a cool eighty degrees fahrenheit as it comes within a record breaking 3.8 million miles of the sun. This will happen all while collecting the vital information so we can know more about what fuels just about all things here on earth.

This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who is still alive. It is named after Eugene Parker, an astrophysicist who first proposed the existence of solar wind. He is now ninety-one years old and was able to see the launch himself along with his family.

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