Sci-tech

NASA's robotic spacecraft to Sun next year may unveil some answers

NASA's robotic spacecraft to Sun next year may unveil some answers

"Solar Probe Plus will be an extraordinary and historic mission, exploring what is arguably the last region of the solar system to be visited by a spacecraft, the Sun's outer atmosphere or corona as it extends out into space".

The probe is set to fly within 4 million miles (6 million km) of the sun, with the aim of unraveling three mysteries surrounding the enigmatic star.

4 million miles may sound like a lot of distance and not close enough, but it is not free of challenges.

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The Solar Probe Plus (SPP) mission is due to launch in 2018 and its journey will last nearly seven years. A launch window for the Solar Probe Plus will occur between July 31 - August 19, 2018, according to NASA.

In particular, scientists hope that the solar mission will provide insight as to why the photosphere, the sun's surface, is not as hot as the sun's atmosphere, called the corona.

According to Eric Christian, a NASA research scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Centre, though the spacecraft would not be able to get to the surface of the Sun it would definitely get close enough to answer three very important questions.

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It will have the 11.centimeterses carbon-composite shield that has been designed by NASA to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft of 1370 degrees Celsius.

You'd think the farther away you get from a heat source, you'd get colder.

Experts want to analyse, how solar wind gets its speed, and why the sun fires particle beams, which are a danger to astronauts and spacecraft. At the closest approach, the spacecraft will come as close as 3.7 million miles to sun's surface - about eight times closer than any spacecraft has come before. "We can't get to the very surface of the sun", he added while affirming the importance and significance of this mission. Scientists also want to know why the sun occasionally produces high-energy particles known as solar energetic particles. "Why the atmosphere is hotter than the surface is a big puzzle", Christian said. NASA has designed a 11.4 centimetres carbon-composite shield, which is created to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft of 1,370 degrees Celsius. If the thermal radiators work as intended, the instruments should remain at "room temperature, Christian says". The Solar Probe Plus will also be protected from radiation, which can damage the probe's electrical circuits, especially its memory.

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