We have started our journey in understanding the various probes sent to explore our powerhouse, and which makes life possible on Earth: The Sun. After knowing about Helios-A and Helios-B, today we will explore another important spacecraft: The Parker Solar Probe.
Before going into the details of the Parker Solar Probe, let us first understand the need for studying the Sun:
- The Sun is the only star we can study up close. By studying this star we live with, we learn more about stars throughout the universe.
- The Sun is a source of light and heat for life on Earth. The more we know about it, the more we can understand how life on Earth developed.
- It is the source of the solar wind; a flow of ionized gases from the Sun that streams past Earth at speeds of more than 500 km per second (a million miles per hour).
- Disturbances in the solar wind shake Earth’s magnetic field and pump energy into the radiation belts, part of a set of changes in near-Earth space known as space weather.
- As we send spacecraft and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this space environment just as early seafarers needed to understand the ocean.
- Space weather can change the orbits of satellites, shorten their lifetimes, or interfere with onboard electronics. The more we learn about what causes space weather – and how to predict it – the more we can protect the satellites we depend on.
Key Points related to Parker Solar Probe:
- It is a NASA robotic spacecraft launched in 2018, with the mission of repeatedly probing and making observations of the outer corona of the Sun.
- It became the first NASA spacecraft named after a living person, honoring physicist Eugene Newman Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.
- A unique solar observatory that will orbit within 4 million miles of our star’s surface to directly study the formation of the solar wind.
- On October 29, 2018, the spacecraft became the closest ever artificial object to the Sun (previously held by Helios-2).
- At closest approach, Parker Solar Probe will be hurtling around the Sun at approximately 430,000 miles per hour! That’s fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in one second.
In our next article, we will explore more details about the Parker Solar Probe such as its journey, important experiments, and instruments onboard.