Parker Solar Probe launch (Image courtesy to NASA/Bill Ingalls)
NASA on Sunday (August 12) launched a probe that will head closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft before it, enduring wicked heat while zooming through the solar corona to study this outermost part of the stellar atmosphere that gives rise to the solar wind.
The Parker Solar Probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small car, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida, for the planned seven-year mission. It is set to fly into the Sun’s corona within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.
The previous closest pass to the Sun was by a probe called Helios 2, which in 1976 came within 27 million miles (43 million km). By way of comparison, the average distance from the Sun for Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km).
The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system.
Unpredictable solar winds cause disturbances in our planet’s magnetic field and can play havoc with communications technology on Earth. NASA hopes the findings will enable scientists to forecast changes in Earth’s space environment.
The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major mission under NASA’s Living With a Star programme.
The probe is set to use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments designed to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.
NASA aims to collect data about the inner workings of the highly magnetized corona.
The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, will have to survive difficult heat and radiation conditions. It has been outfitted with a heat shield designed to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass. — Reuters
NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars
Photo of Mars | NASA via REUTERS
NASA’s InSight spacecraft landed on Mars on Monday.
Employees of Lockheed Martin, the builders of the InSight spacecraft, gathered for a Mars landing. The success rate for such endeavors over the years is just 40 percent.
“Landing on Mars is very hard. We’ve done everything. We have prepared the team, prepared the spacecraft, but now we need a little bit of luck on our side as well,” said Beth Buck, mission operations program manager of Lockheed Martin.
It’s a complicated and risky process as all kinds of things may have gone wrong. The spacecraft, out of touch with Earth, slowed from 21,000 kilometers per hour when it hit Mars’ surface seven minutes later.
Using a robotic arm, InSight has deployed a high-tech seismometer built by the French space agency to listen for Martian earthquakes as well as a self-hammering nail with heat sensors built by the German space agency that will dig five meters deep into the surface to gauge the planet’s internal temperature, all to better understanding a place that’s been much less geologically active than Earth.
“So we’re trying to understand that connection. We’re trying to understand a body that’s smaller, a body that although it was formed 4.5 billion years ago along with Earth, it has formed differently,” said Tim Linn, the entry, descent and landing manager of the Insight lander at Lockheed Martin.
Shortly after the landing, InSight beamed back a photo of Mars. Information gathered during this mission could be useful when humans travel to the planet in the future. — Reuters