NASA on Sunday launched its Parker Solar probe in order to study the Sun’s atmosphere, also known as the corona. The $1.5 billion unmanned spacecraft aims to be the closest device to reach the sun at about 3.83 million miles, over its seven-year project. While the probe was initially set to launch on Saturday, NASA was prompted to delay it due to technical hurdles.
After plunging into the Sun’s atmosphere, the probe will be using seven Venus flybys to steadily reduce into its orbit. The probe is designed to track solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields along with coronal plasma and energy particles. The device is as big as a car and is protected by an ultra-powerful heatsink that can take heat and radiation levels up to 500 times of what’s experienced on earth.
Corona is known to give rise to solar wind that can penetrate through the solar system because of the continuous flow of its charged particles. These solar winds can cause disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field and also cause hindrances with communications systems. With the new probe, NASA is aiming to collect data on corona and its solar winds in order to help understand and predict how it will be further affecting the earth’s space environment.
The probe is named after the American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, who was the first to study and discover the continuously flowing solar winds in the Sun’s atmosphere in 1958. Parker recalls that many people did not believe in his theory back then.
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Before this, the closest manmade spacecraft to ever reach the sun was the Helios 2 in 1976. The spacecraft reached about 27 million miles near the sun, covering almost one-third of total 93 million miles distance from the Earth to Sun.