Last august 12, NASA introduced into space the mission that has actually been defined as a “voyage of excessive exploration.” The human being who identified it therefore is actor william Shatner, the popular Captain Kirk that the original Star Trek series; this is someone that knows a lot around voyages of too much exploration, also if just in fiction. The truth is the the Parker Solar Probe (PSP), which has a microchip on board through the surname of Shatner and thousands of various other earthlings, will break documents in the background of space science. This mission will have to face the fiery fury of the sunlight to a degree never before experienced by any other fabricated object. “This summer we’re going to touch the Sun,” Shatner says in a NASA video.

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The PSP—named after retirement astrophysicist Eugene Parker, that coined the hatchet “solar wind”—aims come analyse the Sun’s magnetic fields, the emission of energetic particles and also solar wind, and also the strange warming of the corona. If the photosphere or solar surface has actually a temperature of around 5,000 °C, the plasma corona the surrounds it is heated up to countless degrees, a phenomenon that has actually baffled scientists for decades.

To achieve its goals, the PSP will go into into an elliptical orbit around the sunlight that over the next seven year will use the gravity of Venus as a springboard to close its loop approximately the star. Return the probe will document its first perihelion (the orbital allude closest come the Sun) this November, this steady narrowing will lug it to its closest method in December 2025. The PSP will certainly cross the corona around 6 million kilometres from the solar surface, i beg your pardon is identical to much less than 9 times the radius the the Sun. The an effective gravity of the star will accelerate the to virtually 200 km/s or 700,000 km/h, the greatest speed ever reached by a room probe. “Parker Solar Probe is, quite literally, the fastest, hottest—and, come me, the coolest—mission under the Sun,” said task scientist Nicola Fox, brand-new director that NASA’s Heliophysics scientific research Division.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will check out the corona, a dynamic an ar of the Sun’s atmosphere. Credits: NASA / SDO

How to defend it from radiation

But how have the right to this spacecraft bring out its mission without its breakable instruments acquiring scorched? In perihelion, the PSP will certainly be exposed to solar radiation 475 times better than that current in earth orbit, and the Sun’s radiance will certainly heat everything within reach of its beam to around 1,370 °C; also though the corona’s temperature is a thousand time greater, that is particles room too spread for its warm transfer come the handmade to exert a perceptible effect.

To defend the probe native the hellish solar weather, the laboratory of used Physics the Johns Hopkins university (USA) has developed a hexagonal umbrella of 2.4 metres in diameter, who thickness of just 11.5 centimetres will be able to minimize the temperature ~ above its rear challenge to about 315 °C, which added to a water cooling device will store the on-board tools at a comfortable 29 °C. In a show video, chief engineer of the thermal protection system, Elizabeth Congdon, shows exactly how a replica the a section of the shield have the right to be heated red-hot on one of its sides while the opposite have the right to be touch without feeling heat.

The shield the PSP is the carbon reinforced carbon fiber. Credit: NASA

The secret of the shield is the carbon reinforced carbon fibre (carbon-carbon or C/C), one old acquaintance of space scientists because that being the material used in heat protectors for the re-entry into the setting of spacecraft favor NASA’s old an are shuttles. The C/C offers extreme resistance to high temperatures, but conducts heat, which needs the insertion of an insulator. Come this end, carbon foam has been used, a porous version of pencil graphite that is work in medication as a bone simulator, and also which is currently likewise being experiment in implants because that bone regeneration.

The technical difficulties of the PSP

The carbon foam is 97% hollow, therefore the vacuum of space will provide the vital insulation while at the same time preventing the shield from becoming a sphere of fire. Interestingly, the a extremely combustible product in the existence of oxygen, something the Congdon discovered out in a activities test once the vacuum system failed: “The point went up in flames,” she called the journal Science. This material occupies many of the thickness that the umbrella, embedded between the 2 sheets that C/C of simply a pair of millimetres thick, and also its high porosity allows the load of the shield to remain at simply over 70 kilos. The parcel is completed with a coating the ceramic enamel of aluminium oxide, who white colour and porosity will help to disperse the heat and also reflect light.

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Technicians and engineers prepare come mate NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. Credit: NASA Kennedy

However, the technical obstacles of the PSP are not minimal to the shield. Due to the fact that the probe will orbit approximately the Sun, one automatic maker must reposition the sun shield. In addition, solar panels for the it is provided of power are also refrigerated and have a device that will keep many of their surface ar in the shade during perihelion. However one essential detail should not be forgotten: in order to touch the Sun, in other words come collect and analyse the particles, two instruments must be unprotected in complete sunlight, for which they are equipped with special materials, such as niobium cables in tubes of sapphire crystal. High technology, indeed, so that this contemporary Icarus can fly come the sun without burning its wings.