Soon NASA Spacecraft Will Explore Sun’s Outer Atmosphere
Photo – Engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Advanced Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, work on NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft. Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to fly directly through the Sun’s atmosphere. Credits: JHU/APL
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be humanity’s first-ever mission to explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere. The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will launch in mid-summer 2018. It will travel directly through the Sun’s atmosphere about four million miles from our star’s surface – facing heat and radiation unlike any spacecraft in history – and make critical observations to answer decades-old questions about how stars work. Mission data ultimately will improve forecasts of major space weather events that affect life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.
In order to unlock the mysteries of the sun’s atmosphere, Parker Solar Probe will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun. The spacecraft will fly through the sun’s atmosphere as close as 3.9 million miles to our star’s surface, well within the orbit of Mercury and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before. (Earth’s average distance to the sun is 93 million miles.)
Flying into the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona, for the first time, Parker Solar Probe will employ a combination of in situ measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and expand our knowledge of the origin and evolution of the solar wind. It will also make critical contributions to our ability to forecast changes in Earth’s space environment that affect life and technology on Earth.
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Parker Solar Probe: Humanity’s First Visit to a Star
NASA’s historic Parker Solar Probe mission will revolutionize our understanding of the sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds. Parker Solar Probe will travel through the sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions — and ultimately providing humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.
Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living With a Star program to explore aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The Living With a Star flight program is managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, manages the mission for NASA. APL is designing and building the spacecraft and will also operate it.