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NASA spacecraft will aim straight for sun next year



A NASA spacecraft will aim straight for the sun next year and bear the name of the astrophysicist who predicted the unlikely existence of solar winds nearly 60 years ago.



The space agency announced fresh details about the red-hot mission overnight including the fact that it would be named after Eugene Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. It’s the first NASA spacecraft to be named after a researcher who is still alive, noted the agency’s science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen.


The mission is set to launch in the middle of next year and will put NASA’s Parker Solar Probe — formerly known as Solar Probe Plus — into orbit within a 6.2 million kilometres of the sun’s surface.


In 1976 a joint venture between NASA and West Germany’s space agency launched a pair of probes that went within about 43 million kilometres of the Sun’s surface — closer than the inner planet Mercury which is 57.9 million km from our star. But the reason we had to wait until now to get any closer is because we didn’t have the materials available to undertake such a gruelling mission.


The probe will be subject to brutal heat and radiation like no other man-made structure before.


The spacecraft and its instruments will be protected by a nearly 12cm-thick carbon-composite shield to enable it to withstand temperatures of 1377 degrees Celsius.


The purpose of the unprecedented mission is to study the sun’s outer atmosphere and better understand how stars like ours work.


Scientists hope it will also give us greater insight into intense solar storms which could impact Earth.


A further area of inquiry for NASA is the mystery of the sun’s corona, the massive hole in the heart of the star. Experts know that the unstable corona is believed to be cooler than the sun’s atmosphere, but have no idea why.


“Until you actually go there and touch the sun, you really can’t answer these questions,” said mission project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.


Dr Parker, who turns 90 next week, called it “a heroic scientific space mission,” referring to the temperatures and solar radiation to be endured by the spacecraft, and the extreme safeguards taken.


The probe will be “ready to do battle with the solar elements as it divulges the secrets of the expanding corona,” he said.


While 6.2 million kilometres may not sound that close, it is by solar standards, Ms Fox said.


The spacecraft will carry a chip containing photos of Dr Parker as well as a copy of his groundbreaking research paper from 1958.


Dr Parker’s prediction of solar wind — the intense flow of charged particles or plasma from the sun — initially was met with scepticism and even ridicule. But it was confirmed a few years later by observations from NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft.


Until then, scientists believed the space between planets was merely vacuum, rather than part of the encompassing heliosphere it proved to be.



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Rumors are carried by haters
Spread by fools
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