(ANTIMEDIA) Chicago — On Wednesday, NASA revealed details of “humanity’s first mission to a star” — the agency’s attempt to rocket a spacecraft directly into the atmosphere of the sun. That craft will be traveling at 430,000 miles per hour and, if successful, will come within 4 million miles of the star’s surface.
“The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before,” said 89-year-old Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist the spacecraft is named after. “It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are.”
In fact, the ceremony Wednesday at the University of Chicago was in honor of Parker, whose groundbreaking work on solar winds in the 1950s formed “the basis for much of our understanding about how stars interact with the worlds that orbit them,” NASA said in a press release.
“This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Noting the significance of that act, he continued:
“It’s a testament to the importance of his body of work, founding a new field of science that also inspired my own research and many important science questions NASA continues to study and further understand every day. I’m very excited to be personally involved honoring a great man and his unprecedented legacy.”
This “unprecedented” attempt to “touch the sun” will require the Parker Solar Probe to withstand temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit as it approaches the sun, but NASA says the data gathered could help unlock age-old questions about how stars work.
“Being able to explain why the sun’s corona behaves the way it does and how the solar wind is formed and how it evolves,” mission project specialist Nicola Fox said Wednesday, “is really key to putting the most pieces of the puzzle together.”
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