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NASA's Solar Probe Plus On Mission To 'Touch The Sun'

First Posted: May 30, 2017 04:00 AM EDT

NASA's Solar Probe Plus will have its first mission to "touch the Sun." The space agency is going to announce this spectacular event on Wednesday, May 31, at 11 a.m. It will be held at the University of Chicago's William Eckhardt Research Center Auditorium.

Solar Probe Plus or also known as Solar Probe+ is a robotic spacecraft that aims to explore the outer corona of the Sun. The spacecraft will approach to within 8.5 solar radii or 5.9 million kilometers to the surface of the Sun. It is slated to launch in the summer of 2018 with the Delta IV Heavy as the launch vehicle.

NASA reports that the spacecraft will not only examine the Sun's outer atmosphere but also make critical observations that could answer questions about how stars work. This could also lead in enhancing the forecasts of major space weather events on its influence on the planet Earth, satellites and astronauts in space.

Brad Tucker, a scientist from the Australian National University's Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said that the enormous leap in technology of this mission is the heat field. He explained that the heat shield is an 11.5-centimeter-thick carbon composite shield. This can endure temperatures of almost 1,400 degrees Celsius. He further explained that the use of carbon composite is permitting them to do much more complex things.

Carbon such as graphene and nanotubes could have revolutionized the scientists' ability to make probes light enough to launch. On the other hand, these are tough enough to withstand intense temperatures under the extreme conditions of the solar system, according to Science Alert.

The Solar Probe Plus that costs about US$1.5 billion will also utilize an active water circulation system. This could aid in protecting instruments that will gauge the corona's electric and magnetic fields, plasma density and electron temperatures. For more details, you can watch live the NASA's announcement about this SPP mission on NASA Television and on the space agency's website on May 31, 2017. 

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