In order to reach an orbit around the sun, the Parker Solar Probe will take seven flybys of Venus that will essentially give a gravity assist, shrinking its orbit over the course of almost seven years. The spacecraft will repeatedly fly through the sun's outer atmosphere to find out why the blazing corona is millions of degrees hotter than our star's visible surface. Its handlers will gradually bring the probe closer and closer to the Sun over its 6+ year mission, but by the time it begins its final orbits it's going to be moving faster than anything mankind has ever built before.
The big launch is now less than 40 hours away, with the probe's first close approach to the sun slated for November.
Launching from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Parker Solar Probe will make its journey all the way to the Sun's atmosphere, or corona - closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history. They plan to launch the Parker Solar Probe, atop the Delta IV-Heavy with Upper Stage rocket, this Saturday August 11th. About the size of a small vehicle, it weighs a mere 1,400 pounds.
Nicola Fox, the Parker project scientist at Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, described the solar probe as "the coolest hottest mission under the sun".
"And it needs to be, because it takes an huge amount of energy to get to our final orbit around the Sun", Driesman added.
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NASA's Parker Solar Probe will be the first spacecraft to "touch" the sun, hurtling through the sizzling solar atmosphere and coming within just 3.8 million miles of the surface.
The spacecraft's path to the sun runs past Venus.
"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week.
The mission will take seven years. "Each time we fly by we get closer and closer to the Sun".
In all, the spacecraft will make 24 elongated laps around the sun, closer than the orbit of Mercury, the innermost planet.
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"This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
The spacecraft will trace how energy and heat move through the sun's atmosphere and explore what accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles. While the Sun-facing side simmers at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, behind the shield the spacecraft will be a cozy 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Most weather satellites (GOES, Meteosat and Himawari, the ones that primarily keep tabs on Earth weather) have solar wind instruments. There is also a white light imager, taking pictures of what the spacecraft is about to "plow through", said Fox. Either the magnetic field allows for large energy conductions between the surface of the Sun and the corona, and when large energy discharges occur, they heat the plasma, or the heat conduction is produced by oscillations of this same magnetic field which will heat the plasma particles in the corona.
This will be the first time that solar scientists can see the objects of their study up close and personal.
"NASA was planning to send a mission to the solar corona for decades".
The corona is a "very odd, unfamiliar environment for us".
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Here's a brief description of some of the scientific questions the mission hopes to shed light on and the instruments it will use to do so. However, the launch period will remain open until August 23, as recently reported by the Inquisitr.