NASA will launch in a few days a probe to study the “red zone”, one of the most dangerous areas of the Sun, as part of a risky mission.
On August 6, the Parker Solar Probe will be sent into space to study the atmosphere of our star. The probe will sometimes be as close as 6.1 million kilometers away from the giant fireball. “Many people think this distance is not particularly small,” says Nicola Fox, chief scientist for the project at the US Space Agency. But if I place the Sun and the Earth on either side of a football field, the probe will be about one meter from the end zone on the side of the Sun.”
Named in honor of the astrophysicist Eugene Parker – the first living scientist to earn this distinction – the probe will enter the upper layer of the Sun, called the solar corona. Since this layer is not very dense, it is difficult to study. The only moment it can be seen is during an eclipse, or with a special instrument that blocks the sun’s light.
In addition to the study of the solar corona, the probe will also be used to try to predict the solar “weather”. Because if the Sun is essential to life on Earth, it is also not much of a friendly neighbor. As evidence, solar flares, which occur in the colder regions of the star, are often followed by ejections in which particles called plasma are projected into space and travel in the sidereal vacuum, propelled by solar winds. These events can lead to an overdose of radio waves or even the breakdown of power distribution networks.
“It is of paramount importance to be able to predict the spatial conditions, like our prediction of weather conditions on Earth,” says Alex Young, a scientist working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. With the Parker Solar Probe mission, scientists are looking to better understand solar flares as well as other aspects of the Sun, such as its crown, magnetic field, and winds.
To protect against radiation and heat from the sun, the probe will need a technological boost. Indeed, the machine will have to withstand temperatures around 1400 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, the probe is equipped with a ceramic shield that will always be oriented towards the Sun. Solar panels that power the spacecraft will retract at each approach near the star, not to be exposed to sunlight, while a refrigeration system will be used to prevent the probe from busting into flames.
If all goes well, the probe will be launched on August 6th and will arrive around the Sun on November 1st. The craft will then begin an orbit of the star lasting 88 days, which will take it further than Venus. Closest to the Sun in 2024, the Parker Solar Probe will spin at a speed of 692,000 km / h.