The historic Parker Solar Probe launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida Sunday to embark on a journey to the Sun. The spacecraft will present data and observations which will help us understand the star that makes Earth possible. The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, is named after Solar Physicist Eugene Parker who, in 1958, predicted the existence of a solar wind.
During its first week of operations, the probe will deploy a high-gain antenna and a magnetometer boom which will measure magnetic forces coming from the Sun that can potentially reach Earth. Also, the probe will deploy electric field antennas in two parts. The beginning of these instrument tests are expected to begin in early September, lasting approximately four weeks. The spacecraft is expected to be about 15 million miles from the Sun in November. Here, the probe will be within the solar atmosphere known as the corona. This will be the first object made by humanity to reach this distance. The probe will go further than this distance though, reaching a distance of 3.8 million miles from the surface of the Sun. Here, the probe will begin doing experiments, helping us understand numerous questions we have about the Sun. Why is the corona 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface? What is the cause of solar wind and what drives it? What accelerates solar energetic particles which can reach half the speed of light? We hope to answer these questions with the help of the Parker Solar Probe and its seven-year journey.
In order to reach the Sun, the probe will need an added boost of gravity from our sister planet, Venus. A gravity assist from Venus will occur in early October. This will whip the spacecraft around the planet while using Venus’ gravity. This won’t be the first time the probe comes in contact with Venus. The Parker Solar Probe will make six more Venus flybys after the initial one, along with 24 total passes around the Sun. Once the probe reaches approximately 3.8 million miles from the Sun’s surface, it will be traveling at roughly 430,000 miles per hour—setting the record for the fastest-moving man-made object.
In total, the Parker Solar Probe carries four instruments designed to study magnetic fields, plasma, energetic particles and capture images of solar wind. This probe will help humanity to understand space weather more clearly and possible dangers that can harm Earth. These space weather events can also pose threats to satellites, astronauts in orbit, disrupt radio communication and, at most severity, damage power grids. It is vital to understand space weather as much as it is to understand atmospheric weather on Earth, for both kinds of weather effect our daily lives and can change in an instant.
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©2018 Weather Forecaster Alec Kownacki