NASA will tomorrow officially announce its mission to launch a probe that will ‘touch the sun’ for the first time.
The £1.2billion Solar Probe Plus expedition will dip inside the sun’s atmosphere and have to survive unimaginable levels of radiation and temperatures of 1,400°C, reports sciencealert.com.
Travelling a mind-boggling four million miles, it is set to collect data that the US space agency hopes will solve some of the deepest mysteries surrounding the earth’s closest star.
Previous missions have never got so close to the sphere of hot plasma since Helios 2 came within 27 miles of the sun’s surface in 1976.
Scientists want to examine the sun as the world has become ever more dependent on technology both in orbit and on our planet’s surface that is vulnerable to solar activity.
And they believe humans will one day live outside our atmosphere and will need protection from severe winds of charged particles and radiation.
The robust probe is due to be launched in August next year, swinging past Venus seven times over the course of several years to fine tune an orbit that will eventually see it enter the sun’s corona.
Sensors will sweep close enough to the burning orb to trace magnetic fields and catch solar particles without getting fried, it is hoped.
Brad Tucker, of the Australian National University’s Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, said: ‘Understanding the activity of the sun and predicting weather from it is crucial if we really want to have humans explore space more, including working and living on the moon and Mars.’
He added: ‘By understanding the solar wind in better detail, how it is accelerated namely, it will open up the possibility of using it to accelerate space craft like the one proposed in the LightSail project.’
The LightSail project is a mission to send a solar-powered craft into space with special reflective sails.
NASA’s press conference announcing the Solar Probe Plus will be aired live on NASA TV tomorrow at 3pm (GMT).