NASA Plans To Launch A Probe Next Year To 'Touch The Sun' : The Two-Way The small spacecraft is set to hurtle toward the sun at about 450,000 miles per hour. Scientists hope it will clear up some big mysteries, such as why the sun's atmosphere is hotter than its surface.
NPR logo

NASA Plans To Launch A Probe Next Year To 'Touch The Sun'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/530743287/530929971" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
NASA Plans To Launch A Probe Next Year To 'Touch The Sun'

NASA Plans To Launch A Probe Next Year To 'Touch The Sun'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/530743287/530929971" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

NASA held a press conference today about a mission to the sun. This is planned to launch next summer. The goal is to send a probe right into the sun's atmosphere. NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell reports.

RAE ELLEN BICHELL, BYLINE: There are two big mysteries that this mission is trying to answer. One, what allows the sun to fling winds out at supersonic speeds? And two, says mission project scientist Nicole Fox, why is the sun's atmosphere actually hotter - 300 times hotter - than its surface?

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

NICOLA FOX: That defies the laws of nature. It's like water flowing uphill. It shouldn't happen.

BICHELL: The plan is to take a package of instruments that's small enough to fit inside a fridge, and as NASA puts it, send it to touch the sun. Touching is a bit of a stretch since there's nothing solid to actually touch, but the spacecraft is going to get 4 million miles from the visible surface. Betsy Congdon, an engineer with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, says that might not sound close...

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BETSY CONGDON: But if you think about a football field, and the sun's sitting on one side, and the Earth's sitting at the other, we're getting within the 5 yard line. So we're getting very, very close and closer than anyone has ever gotten before.

BICHELL: Congdon is in charge of keeping the equipment on board the spacecraft from getting fried.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

CONGDON: Yeah, that is my job. We're basically putting up a big umbrella.

BICHELL: An 8-foot wide disk made of layers of carbon which would get burnt to a charcoal crisp if it weren't for the fact that there's no oxygen in space. The high-tech umbrella will keep equipment humming along at room temperature while temperatures outside rage at more than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Today, NASA named the spacecraft the Parker Solar Probe after Eugene Parker, a retired physicist who predicted the existence of solar winds almost 60 years ago. He's about to turn 90. Rae Ellen Bichell, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BOARDS OF CANADA'S "SATELLITE ANTHEM ICARUS")

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.