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Jason DavisAugust 9, 2018


This weekend, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft leaves Earth on a mission to touch the Sun. Launch is currently scheduled for August 11 between 07:33 to 08:38 UTC (3:33 a.m. to 4:38 a.m. EDT).

Parker Solar Probe, or Parker for short, will eventually swoop within an eighth of the distance between the Sun and Mercury to perform a direct survey of the corona, the Sun's outermost region. It has 4 science instruments that collect data from behind a heat shield that keeps the spacecraft operating at room temperature. The mission nominally lasts seven years, until 2025.

There’s a lot to like about Parker, and you’re going to hear a lot of fun, geeky facts leading up to launch. I’ve collected 10 of my favorites below. Enjoy!

Parker Solar Probe gets encapsulated for launch

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Parker Solar Probe gets encapsulated for launch
The Delta IV Heavy's payload fairing closes around Parker Solar Probe before launch on July 16, 2018.

1. During close approach, the Sun will appear 25 times wider to Parker than it is from Earth.

Eric Christian, the deputy principal investigator for Parker's ISʘIS instrument, told me about a cool way you can visualize how big the Sun will look to Parker. Print out the second page of this NASA handout, and cut out the Sun. Go outside and tape the Sun up somewhere at eye level. Move 20 meters (85 feet) away. This is how big the Sun normally looks from Earth. (Don’t believe me? Get yourself a pair of eclipse glasses and look at the Sun while doing this exercise!)

Now, walk all the way up to the handout, until you can touch the Sun with your outstretched arm. This is how big it will look from Parker during close approach—about 12.5 degrees wide, if you know how to measure things in astronomical terms.

2. At close approach, the Sun will be unfathomably bright.

I also asked Christian how bright the Sun would be if I were an astronaut aboard the spacecraft. The answer: 625 times brighter than it appears from Earth.

To photograph the Sun from Earth, you need to use an infrared and ultraviolet filter and block all but .01 percent of its light. If you wanted to photograph the Sun from Parker, you'd need to block all but .0000002 percent of its light.

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When the Delta IV Heavy’s three RS-68 engines start to ignite, a little bit of unburned hydrogen burps out the engine bells and floats up around the vehicle. Once the engines are lit, the exhaust whooshing down into the flame trench sucks all the surrounding air down too, and some of that extra hydrogen mixes with air and ignites, creating a fireball that chars the insulation on the boosters.

Read more: Solar Probe Plus

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Comments & Sharing

Bob Ware: 2018/08/09 07:54 CDT

I have always, like the astronomers, wondered about the inexplicable temperature perceived oddity. Maybe this mission will explain it but I think it'll just create more questions and provide new curiosity clues instead! That tends to be typical in space exploration!
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