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Friday 24 January 2020

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe: Mission to touch the Sun

NASA's Parker Solar Probe - humanity's first mission to 'touch' a star - will carry over 1.1 million people's names to the Sun this July

Washington: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to “touch” the Sun. The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere about 4 million miles from our star’s surface.

Throughout its seven-year mission, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will swoop through the Sun’s atmosphere 24 times, getting closer to our star than any spacecraft has gone before. The spacecraft will carry more than scientific instruments on this historic journey — it will also hold more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to go to the Sun.

“Parker Solar Probe is going to revolutionise our understanding of the Sun, the only star we can study up close,” said Nicola Fox, project scientist for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in the US.

“It is fitting that as the mission undertakes one of the most extreme journeys of exploration ever tackled by a human-made object, the spacecraft will also carry along the names of so many people who are cheering it on its way,” said Fox.

In March, the public was invited to send their names to the Sun aboard humanity’s first mission to ‘touch’ a star. A total of 1,137,202 names were submitted and confirmed over the seven-and-a-half-week period, and a memory card containing the names was installed on the spacecraft on 18 May – three months before the scheduled launch on 31 July.

The card was mounted on a plaque bearing a dedication to and a quote from the mission’s namesake Eugene Parker, who first theorised the existence of the solar wind. This is the first NASA mission to be named for a living individual.

This memory card also carries photos of Parker, the professor at the University of Chicago, and a copy of his ground-breaking 1958 scientific paper.

Parker Solar Probe will explore the Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations to answer decades-old questions about the physics of stars.

The resulting data may also improve forecasts of major eruptions on the Sun and subsequent space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.

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