On Sunday August 12, at 3:31 a.m., the Parker Solar Probe began a journey eight years in the making, from atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world, a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy. Departing from the Space Launch Complex at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the relatively small, car-sized probe, which weighs only 1,400 pounds, launched “with a whopping 55 times more energy than is required to reach Mars.” On its journey to enter the Sun’s atmosphere (known as the corona) it will reach record-setting speeds of 438,000 miles per hour, “fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in a second.”
— NASA (@NASA) August 12, 2018
During its seven-year mission, the “Parker Solar Probe will complete 24 orbits of the Sun—reaching within 3.8 million miles of the Sun’s surface at closest approach,” closer than any other spacecraft before. To make sure it doesn’t melt like a popsicle on July 4th, the probe’s heat shield is made from “4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fiber face sheets.” So even though it will be 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit on the outside, “behind the shield the spacecraft will be a cozy 85 degrees Fahrenheit.”
Passing areas of the Sun that have never been measured, it will collect data about stellar mechanics, like solar flares and coronal mass ejections, that scientists say they have wanted to investigate for decades. The probe will also let them witness the acceleration of solar winds, and provide information on solar energy particles. The research could help predict weather patterns on Earth, and help prevent interruptions to our GPS and communications satellites, as well as our power grid.
All of which should help improve things for us here on Earth, which is not only not a waste of money, it’s the complete opposite of a Superman IV situation.
Where would you take the fastest spacecraft ever? Ride into our comments and let us know.
Featured Image: NASA