UA Scientists Expect Bright Discoveries From Solar Satellite

12 August, 2018, 02:59 | Author: Jacqueline Daniels
  • The spacecraft will use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to gradually shrink its orbit around the sun. Pic John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

NASA's Parker Solar Probe is scheduled for launch early Saturday morning.

The reason for the delay was not immediately clear, but was called for after a gaseous helium alarm was sounded in the last moments before liftoff, officials said. "But we have to go there". Air Force weather officer Kathy Rice said that there's about a 70 percent chance that the weather tomorrow will cooperate.

Saturday's bumpy countdown had already been delayed twice before the scrub occurred.

The launch promises to be an exciting one, requiring about 55 times the energy needed to reach Mars.

"For scientists like myself, the reward of the long, hard work will be the unique set of measurements returned by Parker", said Szabo.

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The probe is expected to endure wicked heat while zooming through the solar corona to study this outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.

Solar wind is the flow of charged gases from the sun, present in most of the solar system. But the strongest solar storms can cause problems for satellites in orbit and their power grids.

The outreaching corona is hundreds of times hotter than the sun's actual surface, confounding scientists. For perspective, Earth is about 93 million miles from the center of our solar system.

The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done unbelievable things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", said Nicola Fox, mission project scientist.

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Six weeks after launch, the probe will encounter Venus' gravity for the first time. It will go into orbit around our star, close enough to plunge into its atmosphere. The spacecraft will reach perihelion 24 times during its mission.

An artist's rendition of the PSP venturing close to the Sun's surface. That's about 125 miles per second. For the sake of the Parker mission, Betsy and her team made a thermal shield measuring 8 feet in diameter and about 4 inches thick, made of a carbon alloy.

Parker's solar panels are also able to retract and extend as it flies toward or away from the sun, to keep the science suite protected.

The Parker Solar Probe, which could blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as early as 3:33 a.m. Saturday, will dip down to within 4 million miles of the solar surface _ or almost 10 times as close as sun-scorched Mercury.

As for the sun's corona, the fiery halo of shimmering light seen during a total solar eclipse, scientists hope the Parker Solar Probe can answer one of their most fundamental questions. That stream of particles is now known as the solar wind. "We can now add solid physics to the models", Fox said.

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"I'm sure that there will be some surprises", Parker said. Check back for updates.

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