NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Plans Closest-Ever Encounter with the Sun in 2024
In 2024, NASA’s daring Parker Solar Probe is set to “touch” the Sun again, zooming through its blazing hot atmosphere at a mind-blowing 435,000 mph.
This will be the spacecraft’s closest encounter yet, skimming just 3.9 million miles above the Sun’s surface – closer than even the planet Mercury! NASA is hoping the epic solar flyby will help unlock mysteries about the physics of our host star.
You see, understanding the extreme environment and processes at play within the Sun is key to figuring out how it influences the whole solar system, including Earth.
Back in 2021, Parker made history as the first spacecraft to plunge into the Sun’s corona and sample charged particles and magnetic fields up close. Now the plan is to dive even deeper in 2024.
Escaping the Sun’s gravitational pull, Parker is expected to hit a top speed of 195 km/s during its rapid plunge. And that’s where its massive carbon heat shield, 4 inches thick, will be put to the test.
As Parker reaches perihelion – its closest point to the Sun – temperatures on its heat shield could hit a blistering 1,400°C! Even tiny Mercury doesn’t get blasted with that much heat.
If all goes well, Parker’s suite of instruments will be able to gather crucial data during its quick dive in and out of the corona. Scientists are hoping these death-defying stunts will help explain lingering solar mysteries.
Like why is the Sun’s corona, reaching over a million degrees, even hotter than its surface at 6,000°C? Wild physics at play!
Over $1.5 billion has been invested in the Parker mission since its launch in 2018. Only a specially shielded spacecraft could survive such repeated close calls with the raging heat of our star.