Saturday, 24 August, 2019

Spacewatch: Firing up for a close encounter with the sun

Artist's illustration of the Parker Solar Probe at the sun Artist's illustration of the Parker Solar Probe at the
Sandy Nunez | 11 August, 2018, 05:41

Over the next seven years, as it circles the sun, the probe will wrap around Venus seven times, each time slowing down and swooping closer to the sun.

The spacecraft will hit 690,000 kph in the corona at closest approach.

Scientists have had to take great care to make sure that the Parker Solar Probe doesn't burn up in the process of conducting its important science.

The outreaching corona is hundreds of times hotter than the sun's actual surface, confounding scientists. Each flyby will provide an orbit-shaping gravity boost, drawing it ever closer to the Sun and straight into the corona - the Sun's outermost atmosphere.

We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star.

Earth, and all the other objects in the Solar System are constantly plowing through what is known as the solar wind - a constant stream of high-energy particles, mostly protons and electrons, hurled into space by The Sun.

"It can impact our technology, it disrupts our communications, it can knock out satellites, it creates a hazardous environment for astronauts, and it also can even impact our power grids here on Earth", NASA heliophysicist Alex Young said.

When to watch the Perseid meteor shower in Manitoba this weekend
Unfortunately, you may have to stay up late or set your alarm for an early start if you want to spot the best of the display. Some of the best local dark skies are found in the Horse Heaven Hills and foothills of the Blue Mountains.

This is the first NASA spacecraft to be named after someone still alive.

Parker, now retired from the University of Chicago, spent his career trying to understand the sun and the ways it affects the solar system.

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy rocket is providing the muscle. Among other things, the spacecraft will carry a microchip with more than a million names on it.

The memory card also contains photos of Dr. Parker and his groundbreaking 1958 scientific paper on solar wind.

"You know something exciting is just around the bend, but where you're sitting you can't see what that is", Fox said.

If everything goes as planned, the Parker Solar Probe will reach its first close point to the Sun this November, resulting in the first batch of data in December. During its elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will make it up to 430,000mph, which would be a new speed record.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation here on Earth. No matter how fast we try to shoot the probe into space, its momentum will cause it to keep orbiting the sun...