On July 20, 2018, Nicky Fox, Parker Solar Probe’s scientist at the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, and Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland, introduced Parker Solar Probe, a car-sized spacecraft, and its mission, to study the Sun, to the world.
From the dawn of time, the Sun has always been a constant source of bewilderment for humankind. Even after all the years spent tirelessly trying to understand the star and its exceptional mechanisms, we have learnt but little. However, as per NASA scientists, Parker Solar Probe is bound to change the present scenario.
Parker Solar Probe is a mission stretching over approximately 60 years. Named after physicist Eugene Parker, who published a groundbreaking paper on solar winds in 1958, the probe was initially set to be launched on August 6, 2018. However, after a slight delay in affairs, the probe is now expected to be launched on August 11, 2018 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, USA. The spacecraft is expected to provide scientists with the answers to three central questions regarding the mystery involving the Sun.
First and foremost, scientists expect to unravel the secret behind the Sun’s constant outflow of material that is, accelerating solar winds. Though there is some speculation that places the Sun as the origin of solar winds, however, scientists have strong reasons to believe otherwise. For figuring out a possible, if not definite, solution to this query, the probe will be released near the corona region of the Sun.
Parker Solar Probe will be the closest spacecraft near the Sun if it successfully endures the launch. Currently, this status is taken up by Helios 2, a spacecraft launched into the heliocentric orbit for the purpose of studying solar mechanisms in 1974.
The second question NASA scientists expect to find an answer to is the reason behind the extremely high temperatures of the Sun’s corona. Surprisingly enough, the Sun’s corona is hundreds of times hotter than its surface. This, according to NASA scientists, is counterintuitive. This apparent unconventionality of the Sun’s temperatures has always been a source of fascination for space enthusiasts. Fox, the head of Parker Solar Probe mission, says, “It’s a bit like you walked away from a campfire and suddenly got much hotter”.
Finally, Parker Solar Probe should also help reveal the processes contributing to the high acceleration of solar energetic particles. As per NASA scientists, solar particles can acquire a speed that is more than half the speed of light. This magnitude of speed is believed to be the reason behind the interference experienced by satellites outside of Earth’s magnetic field.
Reaching the Sun requires unbelievably large quantums of energy, and for this reason Parker Solar Probe, which is just about the size of a car, will be launched by Delta IV Heavy, one of the world’s most powerful satellites.
There is definitely a lot more to the Sun that humankind is yet to discover, and Parke Solar Probe is another initiative to realize it.
“We’ve been studying the Sun for decades, and now we’re finally going to go where the action is”, says Young.