A Mission to the Sun

Creator: NASA/Bill Ingalls Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)
We see the sun every day. The contribution of the sun is very vital for the existence of living beings. Recently, to reveal the mysteries of the sun, Parker Solar Probe has begun its journey towards the central star of the solar system. If every plan remains alright, within a few years the Probe will reach near the Sun and inform us many facts about the sun.

This is for the first me scientists are sending a spacecraft aiming at the sun though humans started exploring the space more than 50 years ago. Scientists have been thinking to explore the sun for many years, But sending a spacecraft towards the sun is not very easy.

It is a very challenging mission. To accomplish this mission a huge amount of money and developed technology are needed. Considering all these things, the mission to the sun stated late. So, Parker Solar Probe can be said the fruit or result of the dreams of the scientists.

The naming of the Spacecraft: 

The Solar Probe is named after Eugene Parker. While he was a professor at the University of Chicago in 1958, he was criticized for publishing a research article in The Astrophysical journal. In his research, he discussed that from the Corona (the outermost of the surface of the sun) high-speed plasma waves are scattering around.

The plasma wave is scattering in a supersonic velocity from there. Eugene Parker named this phenomenon as "Solar Wind". Though after the publication of the article, Eugene Parker was much criticized, later he proved his theories through different experiments.

For showing respect to his works, NASA, for the first time named their spacecraft after an alive person. Parker Solar Probe will carry on different scientific experiments from an orbit very near to the sun, Parker Probe will introduce this nearest star in a new way to us.


This is not the first event of sending a spacecraft for observing the sun but none could go so close to the sun as Parker Probe will go. In the 17th century, two spacecraft named Helios-A and Helios-B was sent near the sun. Helios-B has a record to go close to the sun and it attained the highest velocity. If the plan proceeds accordingly, then Parker Probe will break this record. 

The Parker Probe will travel at a velocity of 200 km in front of the sun. In total, the cost of this mission is 1.5 billion dollars. The Applied Physics Laboratory of John Hopkins University has designed and built the Probe.

Credit: JHU/APL

The trajectory of Parker: 

For the launch of Probe high momentum was needed due to its trajectory. That's why Parker was launched using a Delta-4 Heavy rocket. On 12 August 2018 at 3:30 am when the Probe was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Eugene Parker was also present there. He witnessed this historical event.

The primary stage of Parker will continue for 7 years. Parker will revolve around the sun in an elliptical orbit tor those 7 years. But during all these, the distance of Parker from the sun will not be equal always. Its orbit Will become smaller gradually. The probe will use the gravity assist of the Mercury to go near the sun.

The Spacecraft increases its velocity or changes its direction by using the gravitational force of a planet when travels near the planet, then the phenomenon is called gravity assist. Almost all spacecraft do this to save their fuel. Parker will use seven gravity assists while traveling close to Mercury to change its orbit.

Parker first traveled near the Mercury and used its gravitational force to enter the elliptical orbit around the sun. It took 150 days to revolve around the sun in its orbit, which is one-third of the time taken by the Mercury to the sun. Parker first reached close to the sun on 5 November 2018. At that time, Parker Probe was 24.8 million kilometers away from the sun.

For the last time, Parker Probe will travel closest to the Mercury in 2024 and use the gravitational force to reduce its orbit to 88 days. During this time Parker will be closest to the Sun. This distance will be so less than at this place Parker Probe will directly observe the transformation of the velocity of solar wind from subsonic to supersonic. Besides, it will explain about different particles of high energy which are flowed out of the Sun only.

Collection of Scientific Information: 

There are vital reasons behind sending a spacecraft so close to the sun. If it happens, we can also observe the sun from the Earth. This can be done using a satellite that is revolving around the Earth. The "Solar Dynamics Observatory" (SDO) of NASA is doing this work. But there are some limitations in this case. The high energized particles which come to the Earth from the sun sometimes interact with the particles flowing out of other sources in the space.

To analyze the particles around the sun, it is necessary to collect samples from the places very close to the sun. Besides investigating the magnetic field of the Sun, the origin, and the structure of Solar Plasma, the reason behind the height of the solar wind- there is no alternative to go near the Sun. We will be able to know about 10% of stars in our Galaxy if we properly know about the sun.

The Ultramodern types of machinery of Parker: 

To collect information about the Sun some developed modern technologies and tools are used in Parker Solar Probe. To save these technologies from the tremendous heat and radiation, there is a carbon composite shield of 4-inch width in front of the spacecraft.

This shield can tolerate 1400"C temperature. When Parker Probe will reach very close to the sun (7 times closer than Helios-B), then behind the shadow of this shield the machinery will be at 30°C temperature.

The shield has a diameter of 8 feet, it is hexagonal, and weighs only 27 kg. As Parker Probe will revolve around the sun at a tremendous velocity, it was very vital for the spacecraft to have lightweight. There is a white layer of aluminum on the shield. That's why most of the light rays from the sun reflect. This is done to keep the temperature of the spacecraft low.

To supply power in the Solar Probe, solar panels are used. An interesting fact about this mission is that, during March 2018, NASA invited the common people to send their names to the Sun. A memory card having the names of 11 lakh people has been sent to the sun with the Parker.

In Greek mythology, there is a story about Icarus. Icarus tried to fly close to the Sun but he failed because his wings were made of wax and they melted. Icarus fell into the sea. In the same way, humans also dreamt for years.

A dream to touch the sun, to go near it. Icarus failed, but mankind didn't stop! Due to the advancement of technology, it becomes easy for humans to explore the burning star. When Parker Probe will travel among the burning plasma, this will make people of the whole world proud.

Collection and publication of information - Alokacitra