Wearing a nearly 5-inch coat of carbon-composite solar shields, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will explore the sun’s atmosphere in a mission that begins in the summer of 2018.
It’s not a journey that any human can make, so NASA is sending a roughly 10-foot-high probe on the historic mission that will put it closer to the sun than any spacecraft has ever reached before.
The probe will have to withstand heat and radiation never before experienced by any spacecraft, but the specially designed mission will also address questions that couldn’t be answered before. Understanding the sun in greater detail can also shed light on Earth and its place in the solar system, researchers said.
This is NASA’s first mission to the sun and its outermost atmosphere, called the corona.
On Wednesday, the craft — initially called the Solar Probe Plus — was renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker.
“This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “It’s a testament to the importance of his body of work, founding a new field of science that also inspired my own research and many important science questions NASA continues to study and further understand every day. I’m very excited to be personally involved honoring a great man and his unprecedented legacy.”
Parker published research predicting the existence of solar wind in 1958, when he was a young professor at the University of Chicago’s Enrico Fermi institute. At the time, astronomers believed that the space between planets was a vacuum. Parker’s first paper was rejected, but it was saved by a colleague, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an astrophysicist who would be awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics.
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SOURCE: CNN, Ashley Strickland