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NASA's Parker Solar Probe Mission to 'Touch the Sun' Explained -- Here's What the Mission Is For

Jun 07, 2017 10:07 AM EDT
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Parker Solar Probe
NASA's Parker Solar Probe is designed to survive the extreme temperatures near the sun. It will zoom extremely close to the surface, seven times closer than the last one.
(Photo : NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center/YouTube Screenshot)

NASA's mission to "touch the sun" is scheduled for launch this July 2018. This will be the first probe to go near the surface of the sun at a distance of 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers).

NASA's Parker Solar Probe mission will be the closest spacecraft to travel near the surface of the sun. Reports say it will attempt to go near the sun's surface seven times closer than any other manmade spacecraft.

The spacecraft is designed with a protective shield that will allow it to endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius). This will also help the probe survive intense solar radiation intensities 475 times higher than what Earth experiences, according to Space.com.

But why is NASA sending Parker near the surface of the sun? In tota, it's expected to zoom close 24 times from 2018 to 2025. It will study the sun's structure, electric field and magnetic field. The Parker Solar Probe will try to answer one of the greatest mysteries of the sun -- why the corona is hotter than the surface of the sun.

"Being able to explain why the sun's corona behaves the way it does and how the solar wind is formed and how it evolves is really key to putting the most pieces of the puzzle together," mission scientist Nicola Fox said in a statement.

The mission will also observe solar storms and space weather. One of the major tasks of the Parker Solar Probe is to examine these natural phenomena. Scientists believe that the magnetic field affects temperature and weather conditions.

Supercharged particles and radiation from the sun can also cause what experts call space weather. The break in a magnetic field creates solar storms and other severe weather conditions. This will, in turn, affect weather conditions on Earth and in different planets within the Solar System.

Understanding how radiation and solar energy from the sun behave will help NASA protect astronauts going to deep space explorations in the future. The knowledge from NASA's Parker Solar Probe that's designed to "touch the sun" is vital to future space flights and is beneficial to Earth as well.

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