On July 31, NASA will launch a probe toward the surface of the sun, and you can be a part of the mission.
The Parker Solar Probe will graze the sun’s surface, flying seven times closer to our home star than any spacecraft before it, according to a NASA release.
The previous record was set over 40 years ago by the Helios 2 spacecraft, which came to within 27 million miles of the solar surface. The Parker Probe is expected to break that record by November of this year, said NASA research scientist Eric Christian.
At its closest approach in 2024, the new spacecraft will be only 3.9 million miles from the sun’s surface. That means the probe will be flying inside the atmosphere of the sun, where it will face temperatures of over a million degrees and solar winds over a million mph, Christian said.
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At its closest approach during this mission, the probe will be moving at around 430,000 mph, fast enough to go from New York to Tokyo in under a minute, according to NASA’s release.
“We’ve been studying the sun from earth orbit and closer for 50 years or more, but there are questions like why is the corona hotter than the surface of the sun? Why is the solar wind accelerated up to a million miles an hour?” said Christian. “We can’t answer those questions by studying the sun indirectly. We have to go to where the action is.”
By answering those questions, scientists will be able to understand solar weather better, and improve forecasting. Right now, bad solar storms can blow out power grids and disrupt satellites and communications. Predicting that weather ahead of time could allow those issues to be prevented.
Perhaps more exciting to those not concerned with the science, you can be a part of the mission by sending your name to the sun on the probe.
“It is a great thing to get people personally involved in the mission. I did it as soon as I found it was open, and I already have instruments going,” Christian said. “It’s taxpayer dollars that are paying for it, and this is a way to give back to the American people, because it is their mission, too.”
You can register your name on the project website to be included on a memory card as the spacecraft makes its historic journey. All you need to do is visit parkersolarprobe.jhuapl.edu/The-Mission/Name-to-Sun to register by April 27, 2018.