DR. SKY BLOG

NASA to launch Parker Solar Probe in August; will orbit Sun for 6 years

Jul 25, 2018, 2:00 PM
(Flickr/NASA)...
(Flickr/NASA)
(Flickr/NASA)

Get set for another great space mission with the upcoming launch of a new and dynamic solar probe known as the Parker Solar Probe.

This NASA space probe will be launched on Aug. 6, as it makes its way toward our nearest star: the Sun.

This will be the first time that a NASA spacecraft has been named for a living person, honoring solar physicist Dr. Eugene Parker of the University of Chicago.

The Parker Solar Probe is a very high-technology spacecraft, using the latest in electronic technology along with some amazing heat protective materials.

The spacecraft will use the gravity assist of the planet Venus over numerous flybys and finally settle into some passes as close as 3.85 million miles from the Sun. The craft will conduct research and analyze the outer regions of the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona.

To put this in perspective, imagine a yardstick, with the Sun at one end and the Earth at the other end. The Parker Solar Probe, will get within four inches of the edge that is the Sun.

At this distance, the heat from the Sun will be near 2,500 degrees. NASA has developed an amazing heat shield that will block out much of the heat and permit it to carry out its mission.

The heat shield, or Thermal Protection System, TPS, is made up of a five-inch thick slab of carbon composite plates, covered with a white reflective ceramic paint to keep the instrument packages at a comfortable 85 degrees.

The TPS system will be able to handle temperatures up to 3,000 degrees.

The probe will be in orbit around the Sun for at least six years. Scientists are hoping to capture data on the elusive solar corona, which has temperatures well over a million degrees.

There is a vast difference between heat and temperature. High temperatures do not always equate with heating another object.

Temperature measures how fast particles are moving, whereas heat measures the total amount of energy that is transferred.

So, in the region of the solar corona, we see temperatures well into the millions of degrees only to find out that there are very few particles in this near vacuum of space, to transfer energy — heat!

The Parker Solar Probe is prepared for this hostile environment of space and has a very unique liquid cooling system to keep it functioning.

To get the probe into orbit around the Sun, a Delta IV Heavy/Star-48BV rocket will be assigned the task of getting the probe out towards Venus and then on to the Sun.

All this will hopefully take place of Aug. 6 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Join me, Dr.Sky, for the first of a series of major public programs. Our “Mars, Moon and Meteor Madness” events kick off with our free public program at Family Eyecare of Glendale on July 27 at 7:30 p.m. at 19420 N. 59th Ave., suite E-525.

See the Moon and Mars in telescopes, along with a free raffle and some prizes.

Call 602-843-2900 for more information.

To print your very own July 2018 star chart, click here.

To view satellites/dates/times of passage, click here.

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NASA to launch Parker Solar Probe in August; will orbit Sun for 6 years