NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is on the way to the Sun. So, what is the following?



NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasts off on his mission to the Sun

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe blasts off from Cape Canaveral on its mission to the Sun.

After decades of scientific brainstorming and the year of construction, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is safely on the way to fly seven times closer to the sun than any mission has before.

Now that the spacecraft is finally off the ground, it will not be long before scientists can start digging into the data, and that data will be keep for the next seven years.

“There is definitely a coiled-spring feeling,” project scientist Nicola Fox, a solar researcher at the Johns Hopkins University, told earlier this week for the launch. “We are just ready for her to leave this planet.” [The Largest Missions to the Sun]

And now, the spacecraft has finally left the Earth. Here is where the journey goes.

Here comes the sun

The $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe need a ton of speed to escape the orbit of the Earth, hence the total of the three rocket stages, which is discharged during the launch. That will contribute to the vicinity of Venus in just six weeks, which with at the end of September.

On Sept. 28, the spacecraft will need to pull out a gently maneuver designed to gently slow down and begin his calculated dance with the sun. That maneuver called a gravity assist, passing a little of the spacecraft’s acceleration of the planet and the edge of the probe a bit closer to the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe will then begin the first of 24 orbits around the sun, with its first close approach, or perihelion, Nov. 1.

Each job will be petal-shaped, skimming over the sun on the foot and then fly further into the space to close out the job. The bulk of the probe is the science of the work will come, when the in a quarter of the distance between the Earth and the sun — although the team hopes that the tools can be enabled for as much of the mission as possible.

The beginning of the jobs, while the remaining further away from the sun, it will be special because the spacecraft will spend its time close to the sun in essence the equivalent of geosynchronous orbit, with the mouse over the region. “Not many people appreciate how entertaining these periods will be,” Justin Kasper, a physicist at the University of Michigan and principal investigator for one of the probe’s instruments, told on these early jobs.

During these periods, which scientists call rapid radial scans, the spacecraft will swoop in at a speed that corresponds to the sun, the speed of the rotation, and then blow out again. While the ship keeps pace with the sun’s rotation, it will be able to see how the same region of the sun behaves over a period of about 10 days.

“We are really able to move and stare at it,” Fox said, leaving the team “the opportunity to spend days watching the dynamics of how a region of the sun is changing or maybe not changing.”

That means that there is a lot of science to look forward to years before the spacecraft completes its closest approach to the sun in the vicinity of the end of the mission. “It might take us five years to get to our neighbor’s job, but we should have a number of fantastic insights into our sun this winter,” Kasper said. “We have a number of fantastic sightings in November with the first perihelion.” [What Happens Inside Our Sun? A Star Tour of the Inside to the Outside]

Seven years to go

As the mission continues, the spacecraft will move closer and closer to the sun, to come eventually to less than 4 million miles (6 million kilometers) above the visible layer of the sun that we see as the surface.

On each orbit of the spacecraft will have the same measurements at different depths in the solar atmosphere, which is called the corona. That layer, which is invisible from Earth except during a total eclipse of the sun, reaches temperatures of millions of degrees (Fahrenheit or Celsius).

“It is all exactly the same observations; the beauty of the Parker Solar Probe mission is that we get [the same data] to different locations,” Fox said. “We really do get a chance to look at the dynamics in all the different locations in the solar corona.”

Scientists hope that will help them understand how the solar corona so hot, and how the sun produces phenomena like the solar wind and solar flares, which have a serious impact on space travel, satellites and even life on Earth.

In addition to sampling the various layers of the sun, the probe will catch our star displaying a complete range of activity, because it undergoes an 11-year cycle of relatively quiet and very calm conditions and back again.

“The sun is very different during the different phases,” Fox said. “We want to see a nice broad spectrum of the solar activity.

Squeezing as a science in as possible

But while the Parker Solar Probe is collecting all of that data, the spacecraft will not be able to communicate with the Earth. Instead, it will focus on making as many observations as possible. Then, it will send back large amounts of information in batches.

A number of these data dumps will come when the spacecraft performs another crucial task: to dance around Venus inch closer to the sun. The probe will repeat the gravity assist maneuver is planned for the end of September a total of seven times during the mission, until the spacecraft has slipped too close to the sun to be able to loop around Venus.

And if all goes well, scientists can get a bonus in addition to the wealth of solar data: observations of Venus. During the sixth the gravity assist, the spacecraft will not be aligned, and for the sending of data at home, so if it has sufficient power, it can leave the instruments on and she puts her dance partner.

“There is an absolute dearth of Venus missions,” Paul Byrne, a planetary geologist at the North Carolina State University, who study the planet, told “A single flyby in itself would not be a revolution in our understanding of Venus, but it would be extremely useful.”

Venus must have its own revolution — but our understanding of the stars that form every day of our lives will never be the same after the scientists begin analyzing the data of the Parker Solar Probe sends home.

End of the road

Of course, all good things come to an end, and the Parker Solar Probe’s mission is due to last until mid-2025. If the spacecraft still has fuel, which is used to rotate itself to keep delicate instruments hidden behind a protective heat shield, the scientists hope that the mission would, in theory, be extended.

But sooner or later, that the fuel gets low, and the spacecraft will be helpless, the high-tech heat shield is useless. The instruments and the probe skeleton and slowly break apart until there is nothing left, except the heat shield itself, Parker Solar Probe project manager Andrew Driesman, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said during a NASA press conference on Aug. 9.

“In hopefully a long, long period of time — 10, 20 years [when the spacecraft runs out of fuel, and breaks] — there’s going to be a carbon disk, floating around the sun in its orbit,” Driesman said. Then he added, it’s anyone’s guess how long it would circle our sun is a solitary reminder that the star once promoted the people who developed the technology to hit. “That carbon disk around until the end of the solar system,” Driesman said.

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