How PIO physicist laid foundation for NASA's mission to 'touch' the Sun

Cristina Cross
August 14, 2018

USA space agency Nasa has launched its mission to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any before.

It will also be the fastest-moving man-made object in space.

But if the mission goes as planned, the probe's discoveries will serve as a lasting legacy to Eugene Parker, the only living person to have a NASA spacecraft named after him.

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement of the mission."And even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are attractive ― but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere".

By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun. The trick was making the spacecraft small, compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus.

And Nasa's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, said: "I'm in awe".

Those few inches of protection mean that just on the other side of the shield, the spacecraft body will sit at a comfortable 30 degrees Celsius.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, will have to survive hard heat and radiation conditions.

The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth.

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Podut said: "Almost all of the public sector is malfunctioning, it must be changed completely and replaced with capable people". They also chanted "Thieves, thieves", waving Romanian, U.S., North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and European Union flags.

Several researchers from MIT are collaborating on the mission, including co-principal investigators John Belcher, the Class of 1992 Professor of Physics, and John Richardson, a principal research scientist in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

Running 24 hours late because of a last-minute countdown glitch Saturday, the trek began at 3:31 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) Sunday when the 233-foot-tall Delta's three hydrogen-fueled Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-68A main engines ignited with a rush of brilliant orange flame and quickly throttled up to 2.1 million pounds of thrust.

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.

Its maximum velocity around the sun will reach 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object to orbit a celestial body.

Six weeks after launch, the probe will encounter Venus' gravity for the first time.

"Wow, here we go!"

PSP is carrying four instrument suites created to study the sun's magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

Scientists have sought these answers for more than 60 years, but the investigation requires sending a probe right through the unrelenting heat of the corona. It also holds a memory card containing more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to travel with the spacecraft to the Sun. This will allow SWEAP to sweep up a sample of the atmosphere of the sun, our star, for the first time at these distances.

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams", Fox said.

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