Over the past few years, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has been breaking its own speed records. And we will continue to break even more records next year.
The agency’s well-powered spacecraft is gradually approaching the sun, gaining speed with each pass. In 2018, shortly after launch, the spacecraft fastest man-made object It has been built so far and is scheduled to reach speeds of an astonishing 430,000 miles per hour by 2024.
At that speed, you can travel from San Francisco to Washington, DC in 20 seconds.
recent spaceship Reached 394,736 miles per hour. “It’s very fast,” Nour Lauafi, an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and project scientist on the mission, told Mashable.
A solar flare is being shot into space. How do I know if there is a problem?
The spacecraft has a thick heat shield and travels through the Sun’s outer atmosphere, also known as the corona. This is the first mission to reach the corona, and the unprecedented data collected will help scientists predict how eruptions from the sun’s surface will affect Earth, which is constantly emitted from the sun. It will help answer research questions about the solar wind, a stream of particles and radiation.
“It’s like opening a new book you’ve never read before,” Lauafi said.
Artist’s concept for the Parker Solar Probe. The heat shield faces the sun.
Credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins University APL / Steve Gribben
How do solar probes travel so fast?
Parker’s extraordinary increase in speed is an inevitable part of orbiting the Sun, a ball of hot gas 333,000 times the mass As our dense planet. Another way to look at it is that her 1.3 million Earths could fit inside the Sun. Importantly, swinging by such a large, high-gravity object increases your speed considerably.
The spacecraft is currently on its 17th orbit around the sun and has been able to reach speeds of more than 240,000 miles per hour since 2018. And in the universe, nothing can stop this movement. “Once we move on, we’re done,” Lauafi said. (The spacecraft will strategically pass by Venus, bringing the spacecraft closer to the Sun with “gravity assist.” These Venusian approaches will minimize the spacecraft’s speed, but eventually The speed increases further as it approaches a massive star.)
At such a breakneck pace, the spacecraft begins a new orbit every three months, allowing its instruments to gather a wealth of information about the solar environment. “Every three months, we add a ton of new data,” Rauafi marveled. “It takes years to learn.”
How will probes unravel the mysteries of the sun?
Space weather researchers have some big questions. They want to know why the solar wind accelerates after leaving the sun, reaching speeds of 2 million miles per hour. They want to know why Corona happens ( reaches 2 million degrees Fahrenheit) is much hotter than the surface of the Sun (10,000 degrees Fahrenheit). And they want to understand how the extreme space weather caused by different types of solar explosions interacts and ultimately affects Earth.
A particularly threatening solar explosion is called a coronal mass ejection (CME). These occur when the sun releases clumps of extremely hot gas (plasma). “It’s like scooping up part of the sun and releasing it into space,” NOAA space weather scientist Mark Miesch told Mashable earlier this year.
These events can wreak havoc on power grids and communication networks. Infamously, in 1989 his powerful CME destroyed millions of electricity in Quebec, Canada. CME collided with the Earth’s magnetic field on March 12 of that year; NASA astronomer Sten Odenwald wrote“Shortly after 2:44 a.m. on March 13, an electrical current found a weakness in Quebec’s power grid. Within two minutes, Quebec’s entire power grid was knocked out. During the next 12 hours of power outage. , millions of people were suddenly in dark office buildings, underground pedestrian tunnels, and stopped elevators. ”
Two views of the coronal mass ejection (CME) emitted by the Sun in February 2000.
Credit: SOHO / ESA / NASA
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Parker Solar Probe researchers hope that the spacecraft, equipped with instruments to measure and image the solar wind, will allow them to better predict when and where powerful CMEs will strike. ing. For example, when a CME erupts from the Sun’s surface, it must travel more than 92 million miles to reach Earth, and along the way, this hot gas “piles up” in front of the solar wind. “That will affect the arrival time to Earth,” Lauafi said. This knowledge of the mechanics of the universe is extremely important. If space weather forecasts are good, utilities could temporarily shut off power to avoid a power surge from the CME that could potentially knock out power to millions of people.
On the outskirts of Corona, the spacecraft will be exposed to relentless heat and radiation, and in September 2022 it will fly through “one of the most powerful coronal mass ejections (CMEs) ever recorded.” flew. NASA said. Still, the ship remains in excellent condition. That’s mainly thanks to a 4.5-inch thick carbon heat shield that faces the sun. The shield itself gets hot to about 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, but just a few feet behind the shield, your surroundings are surprisingly comfortable.
“Most of the equipment operates at room temperature,” Lauafi said.