NASA's Solar Probe Plus: a mission to touch the sun

NASA's Solar Probe Plus promises to get closer to the sun than ever before. Here's a look at how it will do that and what it hopes to accomplish.

In 2018, NASA plans to launch the Solar Probe Plus, sending the spacecraft directly at the sun with the hope that it will help astronomers study our solar system in greater depth.

The unmanned spacecraft will travel all the way to the sun's corona, or outer atmosphere -- at 3.7 million miles away, about eight times closer than any spacecraft in history -- and withstand heat of 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some stats:

  • Solar-powered, of course: solar arrays can retract and extend.
  • Weight: 1,350 pounds.
  • Signature feature: 8-ft.-diameter, 4.5-in.-thick carbon foam solar shield.

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory will study the data collected from the streams of charged particles emitted by the sun.

Goals:

  • To determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic fields that cause solar wind.
  • To trace the flow of energy in the corona.
  • Determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport these particles.
  • Explore "dusty plasma" near the sun and its influence on solar wind and energetic particle formation.

Here's an animated look at the lightweight probe in action:

[video=466168]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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