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NASA announces name of new probe that will “touch the sun”

NASA has come up with a new name for its upcoming mission to the sun.

In an announcement today, NASA has renamed the ‘Solar Probe Plus’ as the ‘Parker Solar Probe’ in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker.

Parker is best-known for publishing a scientific article which first described the phenomenon of “solar winds”.

Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington said in the announcement:

This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual. It’s a testament to the importance of his body of work, founding a new field of science that also inspired my own research and many important science questions NASA continues to study and further understand every day. I’m very excited to be personally involved honouring a great man and his unprecedented legacy.

In a press release, the U.S. space agency stated that the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is scheduled to launch in July or August of 2018.

The probe will be placed in orbit within about 6.2 million kilometres of the sun’s surface and explore the sun’s outer atmosphere.

NASA hopes that the observations made by the probe will help to explain the physics of stars and improve our ability to forecast major space weather events.

On the mission page, NASA states that the concept for the solar probe dates back almost 60 years when deep questions about the sun were asked by the Space Science Board.

Aside from teaching us about physics and space weather, the sun is of special concern to us as humans since our little rock travels around it and human life depends on it.

Obviously, that thing is hawt. We’re talking around 15 million degrees Celsius at the core and 5,500 degrees at the photosphere (the visible surface of the sun).

The PSP won’t be flying that close, but even 6 million kilometres out, NASA calculates it will face temperatures of up to 1,377 degrees. So how are scientists going to prevent the probe from melting?

Encasing the PSP will be 11.43 cm carbon composite shield which, incredibly, should be enough to protect it. Naturally, the PSP will be solar-powered since it will certainly suffer from no lack of sunlight.

Onboard, the PSP has a variety of instruments that it will use to collect data from the sun. There are devices that will measure magnetic fields, magnetic waves, electrons, protons, ions and telescopes that will take images of the solar corona and inner heliosphere.

The physics of the corona (the aura of plasma which surrounds the sun) and inner heliosphere (the region around the sun) may also improve our lives here on Earth.

NASA believes that understanding the physics of these environments will “improve satellite communications, power grid issues, pipeline erosion, radiation exposure on airline flights and astronaut safety.”

To stay up to date with the mission, you can visit NASA’s mission launch page.

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