Parker Solar Probe: NASA’s Latest Mission to the Sun
The legend of Icarus can illustrate why it’s necessary to follow a steady path between great ambitions and mediocrity. Icarus father told him explicitly: don’t fly too close to the sun – but as Icarus ignored this warning, the heat melted the wax in his wings and left him darting down into the sea where he could do nothing but to drown. This legend doesn’t only bring out different interpretations and lessons, it has a physical relation to the recent news coming from the United States and NASA. On Sunday at 3:31 a.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida, NASA’s new robotic spacecraft Parker Solar Probe lifted into space. Everything went well in the launch of the rocket and at 3:38 a.m NASA announced that the launch was completed and the satellite itself was heading towards the sun. To leave the Earth’s atmosphere, a speed of more than 11 kilometers per second was required.
While the launch was initially planned for Saturday, it was postponed to the next day. The reason? A combination of technical problems and the exit of the launch window. The first attempt on Saturday started well and all systems gave their approval for launch. After that, a countdown began from 4 minutes. When the countdown began, it took 9 minutes to fire the rocket itself. Since the launch was not successful within the launch window deadline, the firing was postponed.
NASA stopped the initial timer at 1 minute and 55 seconds. At that stage, time was ticking by quickly and it was judged that the problem could not be solved within the time set. A new attempt was to be made 24 hours later. While the first attempt was deemed a failure, the next day showed more of a green light.
“We have studied the sun for decades and now we finally go where it happens,” said Alex Young, who has been involved in the NASA project.
The sun is a very dynamic and magnetically active star in our solar system that affects its surroundings far beyond the planet Pluto.
The outermost atmosphere of the sun, also known as the coronary, is a chaotic place where large amounts of matter and energy are thrown out with solar winds that can cause interference in, for example, radio communications and electrical systems on earth. How the sun’s activities affect the earth and other planets is known as space weather. In September 2017, for example, solar storms interfered with radio communication in vulnerable areas under the hurricane Irma. The probe Parker therefore has the task of helping scientists to get to know the sun better to anticipate the sun’s storms. As such, we can also better protect the earth. Who wouldn’t want to do that? It is precisely this type of risk and daring that has allowed for our Earth to reach places nobody knew would ever be possible. However, could it be said that NASA shares some kind of similar fate to Icarus? We can only wait and see. But if it succeeds to reach the coronation, what questions can the Parker Solar Probe find answers to?
– Why is the sun’s surface, the so-called photo sphere is much cooler (5,500 degrees Celsius), compared to the sun’s atmosphere, the so-called coronary, where the temperature rises to rampant two million degrees Celsius.
– Where does the sun wind come from? That wind that gives the comets their tails. The constant stream of charged particles blowing from the sun, which also gives us our northern lights when they hit the Earth’s magnetic field. How does the solar wind arise, how does the acceleration accelerate at an enormous speed of one and a half million kilometers an hour?
– Why does the sun sometimes get outbreaks of high-energy particles, those that pose a danger to spacecraft and their crews. Not to mention our power grids here on earth, and other infrastructure. Estimates from the US Academy of Sciences show that a severe solar storm at worst can cause injuries worth $ 2 billion just in the US and leave the eastern parts of the country without power for up to a year!
The sun can also provide more knowledge of other stars. Nevertheless, it will take about seven years before Parker is so close that researchers can study the sun in a very close range. The goal is for Parker to enter the sun’s corona and pass 6.2 million kilometers from the sun’s surface. Up in space it is primarily the heat of the sun itself that can be problematic. Parks are therefore equipped with a state-of-the-art heat shield that will prevent the craft from melting.
Will NASA fly too close to the sun or will it achieve its objectives when the time comes?
Evolvera – always changing, always evolving.