NASA delays launch of Parker Solar Probe 24 hours

Muriel Hammond
August 14, 2018

NASA calls this mismatch "the coronal heating problem", and hopes the Parker Solar Probe will solve the mystery of why the corona reaches temperatures of up to 10 million degrees Fahrenheit. Here's a look at the mission and what it seeks to achieve.

During the approach closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the main objective of an unmanned probe to investigate the crown - an unusual atmosphere around the Sun.

The corona is not only 300 times hotter than the sun's surface but it also discharges powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms that can wreak havoc on Earth by disrupting power grids.

The solar wind carries a million tons of matter into space every second.

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches thick.

As soon as this fall, the Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, that was visible during last August's total solar eclipse.

Perched atop a heavy-lift United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket, Parker will blast off from pad 37 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 3:33 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) Saturday.

"But the day we go to Mars, we'll need to be able to predict solar eruptions of these particles, which can be deadly", he told AFP. "We have not been able to answer these questions".

Once on its way, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft.

Along with being the first spacecraft to fly that close to a star, Parker also will be the fastest, streaking through the outer corona at some 430,000 miles per hour - fast enough to fly from Washington, D.C., to Tokyo in less than one minute.

The probe is named after Eugene Parker, a solar physicist who in 1958 first predicted the existence of the solar wind, the stream of charged particles and magnetic fields that flow continuously from the Sun.

The 8-foot (2.4-meter) heat shield will serve as an umbrella that will shade the spacecraft's scientific instruments, with on-board sensors adjusting the protective cover as necessary so that nothing gets fried.

The car-sized spacecraft is set to travel straight into the Sun's atmosphere - corona - and will stay more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has ever gone before it, mainly due to the fact that it carries a Thermal Protection System to the spacecraft from the heat.

If everything goes according to plan, temperatures inside the spacecraft should be a mere 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

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