It hasn’t made it into the popular news channels much which is puzzling (and sad) because the device, and its mission, is so very, very cool. On August 12, 2018, NASA will launch the Parker Solar Probe, a car-sized spacecraft with a mission to examine the Sun’s corona. It’s no small feat and will require the probe to maintain speeds of 430,000 miles per hour as it whirls around the sun.
The Polar Solar Probe is an attempt to unravel some of the mystery around the Sun’s corona, that layer of hot plasma that floats millions of miles around the sun. The corona is the source of the Sun’s solar wind and is what causes the beautifully, colorful aurorae in the Earth’s magnetosphere.
Parker’s mission is not an easy one. It must be able to survive not only the Sun’s relatively cool 10,000-degree Fahrenheit temperature, but the temperature of the corona itself, an unimaginable millions of degrees Fahrenheit!
The Parker probe will fly around the Sun more than 20 times during its estimated 7 years of operation. Instruments on board will measure electric and magnetic fields around the sun as well as measure the particles that make up the corona. The Parker probe was designed to act autonomously – it can correct its position automatically to avoid deadly pockets of heat and radiation while remaining on course.
To get to the Sun, the Parker probe will get seven “gravity assists” from the planet Venus. Once the assists from Venus get it close enough to the Sun, the Sun’s gravity will take over and boost the probe’s acceleration sending it into a 430,000 mile per hour sprint towards the Sun – a record for the fastest object ever made by humans.