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NASA launching probe to 'touch the sun'

NASA launching probe to 'touch the sun'
By: Sky News Posted On: August 09, 2018 View: 4

NASA launching probe to 'touch the sun'

NASA is close to launching a spacecraft on a voyage to the sun that will give scientists their closest-ever view of the star.

As the probe orbits the sun, it will experience extreme radiation with temperatures expected to reach 1,377C (2,510F), which is close to the melting point of steel.

In order to combat the intense temperatures, the probe has been covered with a carbon composite coated ceramic capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C (3,002F).

After it launches, the probe will travel at a record-breaking 430,000 miles per hour, the fastest speed ever achieved by a spacecraft.

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
Image: The spacecraft will use seven Venus flybys to get nearer the sun. Pic: NASA

It will take six years for the probe to make to reach its closest point to the sun, in 2024, by using Venus' gravity to bring itself nearer and nearer to the star.

The craft's mission is to help scientists understand more about the nature of the sun by taking measurements of solar winds, a flow of ionised gases.

If scientists understand more about solar activity, they could use it to predict large solar eruptions that pose a threat to satellites orbiting the Earth.

Mission integration and test team members secure critical thermal-protection components on the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft. Pic: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
Image: The spacecraft can withstand enormous heat. Pic: NASA

Scientists also hope the probe can help them to answer why the corona, the outermost layer of the sun's atmosphere, is 300 times hotter than its surface.

More from NASA

This is a phenomenon that has baffled NASA scientists because the sun's atmosphere "gets much, much hotter the farther it stretches from the sun's blazing surface".

The probe, named after the American astrophysicist Eugene Parker, is scheduled to launch on 11 August 2018 at 8:33am (BST) from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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