The fact that the Sun is a blazing hot ball of fire makes it rather difficult to gather data on it, and there’s still so much that scientists want to learn about the star that they simply can’t do because of these difficulties. Several decades ago, NASA sent a brave little probe on a suicide mission to the Sun in order to gather as much information as it could before bursting into flames, which ended up providing scientists with groundbreaking information on the star. Now, almost sixty years later, NASA is sending another prove to the Sun, but rather than going on a suicide mission, this probe will fly as close to the Sun as it can without being destroyed, and will supply scientists with a constant stream of data over the course of seven years after it launches in 2018.
Almost 60 years ago, NASA began talks to send a “suicide probe” into the Sun itself to burn up almost immediately after gathering groundbreaking information about our star. Now, NASA is planning a mission to the Sun, and while the probe won’t go inside the Sun and burn into a crisp, it will enter the Sun’s atmosphere for the first time, giving scientists invaluable data on the Sun’s corona. As a result of the Sun’s extreme environment, there’s still plenty that we don’t know about our star. The Solar Probe Plus, which is projected to launch in 2018, will primarily seek to explain why the corona, or the layer of plasma surrounding the Sun, is so much hotter than its surface, as well as what accelerates the solar wind. If all goes according to plan, then over seven years, the probe will use the momentum from seven Venus flybys to get extremely close to the Sun, almost ten times closer than Mercury. It won’t land on the surface, but the spacecraft and its 10 thermally-protected instruments will touch the boiling hot corona. The craft will need to survive temperatures of over 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, and as a result, the entire probe is essentially built to hide behind solar arrays. Once the probe reaches the corona, it will take the first-ever direct images of it and take samples from the solar wind. Scientists have theorized that there is a connection between the solar wind and Earth’s climate, and learning about the cause of solar wind would help us answer questions about everything from the effects of space weather on other planets to Earth’s climate change.