Solar probe set to launch into the sun’s scorching ‘red zone’ 

Posted: July 21, 2018 by oldbrew in exploration, research, solar system dynamics

During a total solar eclipse, the Sun’s corona and prominences are visible to the naked eye [image credit: Luc Viatour / ]

Perhaps the probe will be able to shed some light, so to speak, on the Sun’s famous coronal heating problem.

On Aug. 6, the Parker Solar Probe will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for one extremely intense mission: to fly closer to the sun than any spacecraft before, reports CBC News.

The probe will fly through and study the sun’s atmosphere, where it will face punishing heat and radiation. At its closest, it will come within 6.1 million kilometres of the sun.

“A lot of people don’t think that’s particularly close,” said Nicola Fox, the project scientist for the Parker Solar Probe. “But if I put the sun and the Earth in the end zones in a football field, the Parker Solar Probe will be on the four-yard line in the red zone, knocking on the door for a touchdown.”

Named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker — the first living researcher to receive such an honour — the probe will travel in the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona.

Because it isn’t very dense, the corona is difficult to study. The only time we can see it is during a solar eclipse, or with a specially made instrument called a coronagraph, which blocks out the sun’s light.

While the sun is vital to our existence, it’s not really our ally. It is a roiling, churning ball of gas and charged particles that generates a solar wind that influences our planet — and not always in a good way.

Solar flares are one example. These eruptions occur in cooler regions of the sun, called sunspots. Just like Earth, the sun has a magnetic field. But unlike Earth, different regions of the sun rotate at different speeds. This can cause magnetic loops to become tangled. After twisting tighter and tighter, the stored energy is released as a solar flare.

These are often followed by coronal mass ejections, where charged particles (plasma) erupt and travel at increased speeds along the solar wind.

These events can cause radio blackouts and even knock out power grids. One of the most well known is the power outage that left six million people shivering in the dark in Quebec in March 1989.

“It’s of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict space weather much like we predict weather here on Earth,” said Alex Young, a solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., during a news conference Friday.

With the Parker Solar Probe mission, scientists want to better understand these phenomena: the sun’s corona, magnetic field, solar flares and the wildly fast solar wind.

“The solar wind goes from a steady breeze to a supersonic flow from the corona to millions of miles an hour,” Young said. “So why does this happen? What is going on here?”

Continued here.

  1. Chaeremon says:

    High expectations from many speculations:

  2. Bloke down the pub says:

    To reduce the risk of burning up, they’ll be going at night.

  3. Jim says:

    I would happen to disagree with the article on one major point. ” The sun is not our Ally”, ah, without the sun, we, dinosaurs, snakes, snake plant, and insane cat ladies, let alone their ancestors, would not be here. The sun is our big energy device in the sky. Compression alone cannot increase the air tempreture to a human or plant livable tempreture. The outlying stars do not process enough energy to warm our planet. Nor, the planets. But, there is that ignored heater, light bulb, that gives off enough energies to create conditions that the plants can survive in. If they can survive, then the plant eaters can survive, then we can eat a plant eaters.

  4. BoyfromTottenham says:

    Jim, maybe you should ask why the CBC journalist felt it necessary to include these words in an otherwise (apparently) factual report of a NASA space project. To spice it up, or to inject an element of fear? The fine line between journalism and propaganda.

  5. tallbloke says:

    Get ready for lots of “Baffled scientists…” headlines.

  6. oldbrew says:

    More on the coronal heating problem…

    Parker Solar Probe and the curious case of the hot corona
    July 27, 2018 by Lina Tran, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

    Something mysterious is going on at the Sun. In defiance of all logic, its atmosphere gets much, much hotter the farther it stretches from the Sun’s blazing surface.

    Temperatures in the corona—the tenuous, outermost layer of the solar atmosphere—spike upwards of 2 million degrees Fahrenheit, while just 1,000 miles below, the underlying surface simmers at a balmy 10,000 F. How the Sun manages this feat remains one of the greatest unanswered questions in astrophysics; scientists call it the coronal heating problem.

    Read more at:

    defiance of all logic – could there be some ‘energy in’ to add to the ‘energy out’?

    The Sun’s green line…

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