Parker Solar Probe: It's Surprisingly Hard to Go to the Sun

The spacecraft will use seven Venus flybys over nearly seven years to gradually shrink its orbit around the sun. Pic John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

You've already heard plenty about the Parker Solar Probe over the past year or so, and with good reason. However, it is not easy to reach the Sun.

"According to a statement from Nasa, the probe is due to orbit within six-and-a-half million kilometres of the Sun's "surface", where the probe will "(face) heat and radiation unlike any spacecraft in history".

The Parker Solar Probe will be the first-ever mission to "touch" the Sun, traveling directly into the Sun's atmosphere about 4 million miles from the surface. Earth is kept from falling into the Sun and burning up because of this effect as well.

On each close approach to the sun, the probe will sample the solar wind, study the sun's corona, and provide close-up observations from around the star. NASA says that the massive gravitational pull makes it surprisingly hard to get to the Sun.

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After it launches, the probe will travel at a record-breaking 430,000 miles per hour, the fastest speed ever achieved by a spacecraft. One reason is that the Earth is moving 67,000 miles per hour nearly entirely sideways relative to the sun. "In addition to using a powerful rocket, the Delta IV Heavy, Parker Solar Probe will perform seven Venus gravity assists over its seven-year mission to shed sideways speed into Venus' well of orbital energy".

Parker will gradually shed its sideways speed as it approaches the Sun, but the Sun's extreme gravity will take over and it will start accelerating. At its peak, the Parker Solar Probe is likely to clock in at over 692,000 km per hour on its final orbits.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, is set to use seven Venus fly-bys over almost seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments created to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

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