How Nasa will attempt to ‘touch the Sun’

Parker Solar Probe, which launches this week, will fly closer to the Sun that any man-made object in history


Nasa is set to launch a space exploration mission this week that will attempt to “touch the Sun” and could offer vital clues about how solar energy works.

The Parker Solar Probe, which is due to be launched from Cape Canaveral on Saturday, will fly closer to the Sun than any man-made object in history, beaming back invaluable new data on the star’s properties and atmospheric conditions over a seven-year period.

The project is named in honour of American physicist Eugene Parker who first speculated on the nature of solar winds in 1958, and the first time a Nasa mission has honoured a living person.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

While Nasa scientists have intended to launch a solar mission for decades, cuts made to the space programme by successive presidents have hampered development, while “only recent technological advances in cooling systems and fault management have made it possible” says The Independent.

See more

On its final close approach, in 2025, the Parker Solar Probe will get within 4 million miles of the Sun's surface — so close that it will actually fly through the star's incredibly hot atmosphere, called the corona, Nasa officials have said.

This will enable the probe to work on three main questions: why its atmosphere becomes hotter farther away from the surface of the Sun, how the solar wind of charged particles streaming out into space is born, and what causes the gigantic outbursts scientists call coronal mass ejections.

“The answers could be crucial to scientists' understanding of how stars beyond our solar system work” says, adding that “closer to home, the probe's work should also help scientists understand and predict the hazards of living near a star” including why solar activity can interfere with communications and navigation systems.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.