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Parker Solar Probe Launches to "Touch the Sun".

TOUTED AS THE "mission to touch the Sun," the Parker Solar Probe is the first to be named after a living person, solar physicist Eugene Parker (University of Chicago, emeritus). The spacecraft will carry a suite of instruments to study the origin of the solar wind and the dynamics of the solar corona, looping around the Sun 24 times in its seven-year mission.

After its launch on August 12th, the probe is due to swing by Venus on September 28th, entering an initial, 150-day-long orbit around the Sun. Passing 34.7 solar radii from the Sun on November 1st, it will complete six additional Venus flybys to further decrease its period to 88 days. Ultimately, the spacecraft will reach it closest approach, passing within 9 solar radii of the Sun's surface, on December 19, 2024.

Engineers designed the Parker Solar Probe to survive temperatures that can reach 1600K (2500[degrees]F). To take the heat, the craft is equipped with a heat shield made of reinforced carbon composite 11.4 cm (4.5 inches) thick.

The majority of the probe's four instrument suites will remain behind this shield, where temperatures will be a comfortable 85[degrees]F. But a couple of key pieces--namely, the Solar Probe Cup (SPC) and the niobium-alloy antennas of the FIELDS experiment--will extend past the shield to directly examine the Sun. The SPC will scoop up samples of charged particles in order to measure their flux and flow, while the FIELDS experiment will measure the electric and magnetic fields around the Sun. Visit https://is.gd/ParkerSolarProbe to learn more about the instruments the probe carries.

The probe will be the first mission to go past the Alfven point. Within this boundary, Alfven waves--oscillations of charged particles and the magnetic fields they travel along--tie the solar wind to the Sun's surface, but particles beyond it escape into the solar system. Studying the plasma within the Alfven point for the first time, scientists will explore the solar wind's origin, hopefully improving space weather forecasts. Close-in measurements will also help scientists find out what heats the million-degree solar corona.

Caption: NASA's new solar probe launched August 12th from Cape Canaveral aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket.

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Author:Dickenson, David
Publication:Sky & Telescope
Date:Nov 1, 2018
Words:368
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