NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will orbit the sun to gather information about it. NASA
There is an ancient Chinese story about a giant man named Kua Fu who chases the sun. He drains the Yellow and Wei rivers during his race and finally dies of dehydration. His failure has reminded people of the unstoppable power of the sun for centuries.
And yet, scientists throughout history have tried to better understand the most important star in our sky. On Aug 12, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US, marking the start of its trip to the sun, according to space.com.
The probe itself is almost as big as a car and needed the help of a powerful rocket to escape Earth’s orbit, change direction and reach the sun, reported CNN.
In order to reach the sun, the probe must complete seven flybys of Venus, using the power of the planet’s gravity to change its path, sending it toward the sun.
But that’s not the only difficult part of the journey. As the probe approaches the sun’s corona, it will have to bear temperatures reaching 1,400 C, as well as deal with serious radiation. So how will the probe survive?
“The spacecraft and most of the payload will be protected by a shield from the sun’s heat, which will be as high as 500 times what we experience on Earth,” deputy project scientist Nour Raouafi told Discovery Magazine.
According to NASA, this shield is a special 11.5 cm-thick carbon-composite shield that will be positioned between the probe and the sun’s corona.
It’s advanced technology like this will make the probe’s trip to the sun much smoother. If everything goes as planned, the probe will reach a speed of 692,018 kilometers per hour as it orbits the sun, setting a new record for the fastest man-made object (物体) in history, NBC noted. It will fly close to the sun 24 times between 2018 and 2025, NBC added.
The “mission to touch the sun” will “not only make history by answering questions that have puzzled scientists for decades, but it may also lead to the discovery of new phenomena that are completely unknown to us now,” Raouafi told Discovery Magazine. “This mission has the potential to push solar research into a new direction,” he added.