Advances in the field of space exploration have been made possible thanks to technology. Humans have sent spacecrafts to planets, moons, even to the further reaches of space. Now, NASA is tackling the one heavenly body that has proven insurmountable, even with its proximity to Earth – the sun.
The viability of sending a probe to the sun has always been questionable, but NASA says that it is possible. In 2018, the agency intends to launch the Solar Probe Plus mission, which aims to get as close as 4 million miles to the sun, Tech Times reports.
Astronomers point out that in this first mission, it is not likely that any probe can get to the surface of the fiery sun, but they are hopeful that the intended distance will be enough to gather data that will prove useful.
In particular, scientists hope that the solar mission will provide insight as to why the photosphere, the sun’s surface, is not as hot as the sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. The photosphere is around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, but the atmosphere is much hotter at 3.5 million Fahrenheit.
Eric Christian from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center says,
You’d think the farther away you get from a heat source, you’d get colder. Why the atmosphere is hotter than the surface is a big puzzle.
Scientists are also hoping to answer questions on how solar wind gets its speed, and why the sun produces high-energy particles. Likewise, they hope that this mission can give new information on solar activities that will help in forecasting space-weather events which in turn might impact life on Earth.
To deal with the extreme heat of the sun, scientists designed a shield that is 4.5 inches thick, made of carbon composite. The sun probe will also have special heat tubes called thermal radiators that will radiate heat coming in so that heat-sensitive instruments are not damaged. If everything works properly, the probe should maintain room temperature inside, and be able to beam back data.