NASA mission 'touch the sun'
NASA mission ‘touch the sun’

Get closer to the sun than any other space project in history has achieved. This is the objective with which the Parker Solar Probe mission is presented, which will be launched next August.

On Saturday morning, the National Space Agency of the United States (NASA) announced that a robot with vehicle characteristics will travel to our star. This is a project developed together with the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University, the US Naval Research Laboratory. UU., The University of Michigan, the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Princeton University in New Jersey and the University of California at Berkeley.

“We’ve been studying the sun for decades, now we’re finally going where the action is going,” Alex Young, associate director of science at the Division of Heliophysical Sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Center in Maryland, told a news conference. , USA UU

Young said the launch is expected to be made from Cape Canaveral, Florida, sometime around August 6.

Why is it important to study the sun?

This star is more complex than our eyes observe when they look at the sky. The human eye seems to be a sphere that does not move, but the sun is a highly dynamic star with active magnetic fields. The solar atmosphere constantly sends magnetized material into the solar system, the impact of these magnetic waves reaching beyond Pluto, the farthest planet.

As if that were not enough, that magnetic energy can travel further and create temporary distortions in the atmosphere.

According to Young and his team, there is influence of this solar activity on Earth and other celestial bodies. This field of study is called spatial climatology, and the key to understanding its origin and characteristics begins with understanding the sun first.

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“The energy of the sun keeps flowing and goes beyond our planet. The solar wind is invisible, but we can see it reach the poles in the aurora. We do not have enough knowledge of the mechanisms by which the solar wind reaches us. It’s what we want to find out, “said Nicky Fox, a researcher at Johns Hopkins.

One of the questions that we want to answer is the solar wind acceleration. This wind, as its name says, has its origin in the sun, but after leaving it there is a point – which has not yet been discovered – where this mass of air accelerates at supersonic speeds. There are some hypotheses that say that this change of speed occurs in the crown (external part of the solar atmosphere). The Parker Solar Probe will travel directly to the crown. Scientists hope with this to gather the information they need.

Another aspect that seeks to learn is the “secret” behind the high temperatures of the crown. The visible surface of the sun has a temperature close to 5,500 ° C, but the corona is hundreds of times hotter, several million degrees Celsius. This is strange and calls the scientists’ attention, since the energy is produced in the inner parts of the sun and it does not seem to make sense that the outer part is hotter.

“It’s like you’re walking away from a campfire and suddenly, when you’re further away from it, you feel much more warm,” Fox explained.

Finally, there is a third question that this mission seeks to answer: the mechanisms with which the acceleration of solar particles works. These particles can reach speeds close to half the speed of light. In addition, these particles can interfere with the magnetic fields of the satellites.

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The instruments

The scientists finalize the details of the Parker Solar Probe before its launch in August.
The scientists finalize the details of the Parker Solar Probe before its launch in August.

In order to carry out this mission, the device carries with it four kinds of instruments. The first is named fields (fields, in English) and was developed by the University of California at Berkeley. This instrument measures the electric and magnetic fields around the space vehicle. In addition, it captures waves and turbulences in time close to real time. This will allow understanding the fields and how they are associated with the solar waves.

The second instrument is called WISPR (wide field camera of solar probe, for its acronym in English). It is the only type of camera or imaging instrument in the entire device. This team will take images of structures such as solar waves, activities and movement of the corona and the solar environment. This device is developed by the Naval Research Laboratory, in Washington.

The third team is called SWEAP (Investigation of Protons and Electrons in the Solar Wind, for its acronym in English). This team uses two instruments to take data. First, one to count electrons, protons and ions (parts of atoms and atoms with positive or negative charges). The other insturmento measures speed, density and temperature of the wind. This complex system is a product of the work of the University of Michigan, the University of California at Berkeley and the Smithsonian Astrophysics Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Finally, the ISOIS instrument measures the particles according to their energy and how they move (direction, speed, alteration and at what moment their acceleration occurs). Princeton University is in charge of this part.

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There are still no possible dates for the first data, because the sun must first be reached and the researchers do not have a date for that. However, they assure that the importance of this mission is transcendental.

“By studying our star we can not only learn more from the sun. We will also learn more of all the other stars that impact the galaxy and we might even have clues to the beginning of life, “concluded Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of science missions at NASA.

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