After nearly sixty years in the making, NASA has boldly gone where no one has before. In 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launched into orbit and set course for the fireball we call the Sun. Finally, in December, the company confirmed it had remarkably ‘touched‘ the Sun.
The event makes NASA’s Parker solar probe the first spacecraft to reach the Sun. To be precise, the probe didn’t touch anything but rather successfully flew through the Sun’s corona and upper atmosphere.
The space agency says this event happened way back on April 28. However, it took several months for the data to travel back to Earth, then a few more months for scientists to confirm the monumental event. Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, had this to say:
“Not only does this milestone provide us with deeper insights into our Sun’s evolution and (its) impacts on our solar system, but everything we learn about our own star also teaches us more about stars in the rest of the universe.”
The Parker solar probe breached the Sun’s corona during the flyby, where it then sampled particles and magnetic fields. So what was the primary goal of this costly mission? According to NASA, the particles and magnetic data will help scientists understand solar winds, magnetic fields, and other events that could be a threat to satellite communications, among other things.
For those wondering, the Sun’s corona is one million degrees Kelvin (1,800,000 degrees Fahrenheit) at its hottest point. On the surface, however, temperatures reach nearly 6,000 Kelvin (10,340 degrees Fahrenheit).
NASA engineered the solar probe with special heat shielding made of reinforced carbon composite foam to withstand the insane heat and energy being produced. But, what’s even more impressive, is that NASA managed to keep the instruments onboard and inside, safely around 81 degrees Fahrenheit.
The NASA Parker solar probe will make 21 close approaches to the Sun throughout a seven-year mission, with the next major event in January 2022. Then, NASA says it’ll reach its closest proximity in 2024 before it inevitably goes up in flames later in 2025.
Isn’t space exploration cool?
via The Register