NASA spacecraft set to begin 7-yr mission to "touch the sun"

NASA spacecraft set to begin 7-yr mission to

Designed at Johns Hopkins University, the Solar Parker Probe will depart on the 11th from Cape Canaveral (the main center of US space activities) on a mission that will last seven years and analyze the solar wind. Among the mysteries it will attempt to unlock is the formation of the solar wind - the charged flow of particles spewing out from the sun and affecting everything in the solar system, Earth included.

On its final close approach, in 2025, the Parker Solar Probe will get within 4 million miles of the Sun's surface - so close that it will actually fly through the star's incredibly hot atmosphere, called the corona, Nasa officials have said.

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world 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".

The spacecraft will explore the sun's outer atmosphere and make observations that will answer decades-old questions about the physics of how stars work. It should reach its first point of close approach to the sun on November 5.

The spacecraft has undergone a brutal regimen of testing at the APL and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

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The four instruments onboard the spacecraft are a solar wind plasma suite, the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) investigation; an electric and magnetic field suite (FIELDS); a wide field imager (WISPR); and the energetic particle suite, the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun (ISʘIS).

It will be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida in a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy. The mission is expected to include 24 orbits around the sun over a period of seven years. The probe will become the fastest manmade object in history as it speeds toward the sun.

"We see these big storms happening on the sun and then see them collide with Earth", said Geronimo Villanueva.

The mission was named after Eugene Newman Parker, a physicist who proposed a number of concepts about how stars give off energy. While the launch window was due to close on August 19, NASA has managed to extend it for a few more days, until August 23.

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