BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s a close encounter never before attempted, and on Wednesday, NASA unveiled details of a spacecraft that will touch the outer edges of the sun.
It’s called the Parker Solar Probe, and it’s being built right here in Maryland.
NASA currently has 17 spacecrafts observing the sun, working to unlock its violent secrets, but nothing like this.
“NASA’s Parker Space Probe mission is about to embark on an historic journey to our very own star, the sun,” NASA announced Wednesday.
“Solar probe is going to be the hottest, fastest mission,” said Dr. Nicola Fox, with Hopkins Applied Physics Lab. “I like to call it the coolest mission under the sun.”
Next year, NASA will launch the probe, which was designed and is being built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.
It will reach a top speed of 430,000 miles per hour, and come within 4 million miles of the sun’s surface, which is seven times closer than any other spacecraft.
It’s headed for the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona, which can be seen here on earth as it flares during a total eclipse.
“The corona can get up to a couple million degrees. We’re not going quite that close, but still, where we’re going to it will be at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Dr. Fox. “And yet the instruments tucked in the shadow behind the heat shield will be operating at about the temperature of this room.”
Allowing the probe to make multiple close approaches over a seven year span, in an attempt to better understand the high energy particles released during solar eruptions, which can damage power grids and communication satellites.
And then there’s the mystery of temperature.
“Why is the corona hotter than the surface of the sun? That defies the laws of nature,” Dr. Fox said. “It’s like water flowing uphill; it shouldn’t happen. Until you actually go and touch the sun, you really can’t answer these questions.”
The Parker Solar Probe is named after Eugene Parker, who won a Nobel Prize in physics for discovering the existence of solar wind 60 years ago.