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Parker Probe Reaches for the Sun


Later this week, NASA is expected to launch the Parker Solar Probe on a mission to touch the sun. Well, almost touch the sun.

“The Parker Probe will get 3.8 million miles from outer solar surface. It’s a great place to understand solar physics,” NASA Chief Scientist Jim Garvin said.

And it’s hot there. Really hot. The solar surface is one-millions degrees, but in the solar corona, where the probe will be, it’s a different temperature. It'l be thousands of degrees cooler, and fortunately, the probe can handle it.

“The Parker probe is a masterpiece of engineering. With its heat shield system and thermal cooling loops, it can handle instantaneous temperatures of 2,500 degrees,” Garvin said. “It’s able to do that, and operate the space craft. That all comes together to make measurements of a kind never before made by humanity.”

There are a variety of reasons that NASA wants to make the trip, a big reason is to try to understand how energy that flows in solar wind is born.  

“It’s all about getting to the best place to see that physics,” Garvin said.

It’s also about safety for the future crews that travel in space. The measurements that they take will allow people to travel to space with a greater awareness. “It’s fundamental to keeping crews safe,” Garvin said.

But, like many things regarding space exploration, you’ll have to be patient. The probe could leave as soon as August 11th, but it will take 7 years for it to reach the sun - taking measurements all along the way.

Elsa Partan is a producer for Living Lab Radio. She first came to the station in 2002 as an intern and fell in love with radio. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. From 2006 to 2009, she covered the state of Wyoming for the NPR member station Wyoming Public Media in Laramie. She was a newspaper reporter at The Mashpee Enterprise from 2010 to 2013. She lives in Falmouth with her husband and two daughters.