Spacewatch: Firing up for a close encounter with the sun

Artist’s concept of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft approaching the sun. Pic Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Image Artist's concept of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun. Pic NASA

NASA is close to launching a spacecraft on a voyage to the sun that will give scientists their closest-ever view of the star.

At 3:33 a.m. EDT, the Parker Solar Probe will launch from Space Launch Complex 37 on Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Scientists also hope the probe can help them to answer why the corona, the outermost layer of the sun's atmosphere, is 300 times hotter than its surface.

You've already heard plenty about the Parker Solar Probe over the past year or so and with good reason.

NASA's plans for the probe include multiple orbits of the sun, repeatedly slingshotting itself around the star and gathering vital science data each time it makes its approach. And as it draws near, the spacecraft will be accelerated by our star's intense gravity to a stupendous speed - estimated to be 430,000 miles per hour.That will make the probe the fastest human-made object, eclipsing the twin Helios probes that zoomed along at 157,000 miles per hour on their sun-circling trajectories.

The Parker Solar Probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker, will, as the USA space agency describes it, "touch the sun" as it flies within 3.9 million miles of the star's surface.

Over the course of its mission, the Parker Solar Probe will orbit the sun 24 times while being subjected to extreme heat and radiation, with temperatures expected to reach 1,377C, almost hot enough to melt steel.

"With each orbit, we'll be seeing new regions of the sun's atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we've wanted to explore for decades".

Saturday marks the day we finally send a spacecraft to the sun.

Nasa says the TPS has been tested to withstand up to 1,650C temperatures and "can handle any heat the sun can send its way".

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