Artist’s depiction of the Parker Solar Probe near the Sun.Illustration: NASA
A human-made spacecraft is finally heading to the center of the Solar System. NASA’s first launch window for the Parker Solar Probe begins at 3:33 a.m. ET this Saturday, and if all goes well, the ship will then begin its journey to the Sun.
Not directly into the Sun, of course. It will pass Venus seven times, eventually arriving within 3.8 million miles of the solar surface, a little more than four times the Sun’s diameter. But despite 2,500 degree temperatures, the ship’s instrumentation will remain at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit, which seems positively chilly, given the circumstances.
“It’s the first time that we have flown any kind of instrument like this close to the Sun, and it’s also the first time we’ve had the technology available to do it,” NASA solar physicist Mitzi Adams told Gizmodo. “It’s a combination of those two things that make it exciting to me.”
The key technology is a thermal protection system that shields the ship, alongside a water-powered cooling system, according to a Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab press release.