NASA ready for trip to the sun

An artist’s rendering of the Parker Solar Probe nearing the Sun

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, is set to use seven Venus fly-bys over almost seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments created to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

The car-sized probe, which will get within 3.9million miles of the sun's surface, is set to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Saturday at 8.33am British time. Ultimately, it will find itself within the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere, an area known as the corona. It is expected to approach the sun in 2024. Its handlers will gradually bring the probe closer and closer to the sun over its six-year-plus mission, but by the time it begins its final orbits it's going to be moving faster than anything mankind has ever built before.

The last time a man-made object came close to the star's surface was in 1976 when Helios 2 achieved perihelion, point of the orbit at which it was closest to the sun, at 27 million miles.

On each close approach to the sun, the probe will sample the solar wind, study the sun's corona, and provide close-up observations from around the star.

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The probe is relying on a 4.5 inch carbon heat shield which has taken 10 years to develop and which is so strong it will survive for billions of years even when the rest of the spacecraft has disintegrated.

Image: The spacecraft can withstand enormous heat.

The craft's mission is to help scientists understand more about the nature of the sun by taking measurements of solar winds, a flow of ionised gases.

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