Studying the sun up close: Solar Probe Plus
The planned Solar Probe Plus approaches the sun in this artist's rendering.
March 6th, 2012
03:07 PM ET

Studying the sun up close: Solar Probe Plus

There's a new spacecraft being designed to study the sun: the Solar Probe Plus, managed by a team at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, or APL. The scientists behind it aim to answer two fundamental questions: why the sun's atmosphere is hotter than its surface, and what's responsible for accelerating solar wind.

Part of NASA's Living With a Star program, which looks to study how the sun, solar system and Earth interact, the Solar Probe Plus would break new ground in science with regard to our central star.

The Solar Probe Plus will be designed to orbit the sun 24 times, getting closer to the star with each orbit. The probe will do something no spacecraft has done yet: approaching it as close as 4 million miles from the surface. (Considering the sun is 93 million miles from Earth, that is indeed "close.")

"Solar Probe Plus will revolutionize our knowledge of the physics of the origin and evolution of the solar wind," Nicky Fox, Solar Probe Plus project scientist at APL, said in a release.

Before the Solar Probe Plus can fly though, the APL team has to make sure it can withstand solar radiation, minuscule dust particles and temperatures more than 2,550 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA has just given the team the go-ahead to move from the first round of concepts to designing and testing components such as a carbon-carbon composite heat shield and a cooling system to protect the craft's solar arrays.

The probe, which will be about the size of a small car, will carry instruments to measure particles in the solar wind, the sun's magnetic and electric fields, radio emissions in the sun's plasma and elements in the atmosphere.

"Solar Probe Plus presents technical challenges like no mission before it," said Andrew Driesman, Solar Probe Plus project manager, in a statement. "Our goal is to get these technologies to the point where we have full-scale prototypes that we can test in a realistic environment."

The probe is scheduled to launch in 2018.

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Filed under: In Space • the Sun
soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Daniela

    lets say you had a spaceship that could fly at the speed of light. this is alactuly impossible unless you rip spacetime, but we'll ignore that. you blast off from earth, travel to the end of the known universe, and come back. every one on earth thinks that you've been gone for about 26 billion years. this is because the edge of the known universe is 13 bilion light years away. for you, however, it will alactuly take ZERO time. this is because time slows for a very fast moving object, and alactuly stops for one moving at the speed of light. you could travel to every point in the universe, including the ones that are too far a way to see, and your watch wouldn't tick once. you wouldn't even see what was happening because light wouldn't reach your eyes and your brain couldn't process the information.

    April 5, 2012 at 8:58 pm |
  2. yo mamma sux

    I think iz waste of mony to git to da moon..it make mo sinse to make a ship dat can go clear to dat sun so we can knew how to it werk so we dont hav so bad winters here in detroit. it would be beta to spend on dat out of our texes then white peeple always wastin mony on stoopid things lik .....shuut i foget. oh yea on monies like dem muuzeums and stos dat sell hockee stuff

    March 8, 2012 at 1:43 am |
    • Alex Eastman

      maybe if you hadn't dropped out of third grade you would have a better understanding of why science is important and why in the world would you think that we are studying the sun to figure out ways to not have bad winters in detroit where your 3rd world education taught you to spell worse than a brain dead 1st grader with ADD

      March 27, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
  3. hamsta

    i would be surprised if it doesnt burn up before the first orbit is complete.asking why the atmosphere is hotter than the surface is like asking why the catalytic converter is hotter than any part of your car engine.

    March 7, 2012 at 3:52 am |
    • Alex Eastman

      first of all do you really think that they didn't prepare for the intense heat it would face near the sun and second of all the reason they wonder why the atmosphere is hotter is because if all the energy is made in the core why would something farther from it be hotter than something closer to it

      March 28, 2012 at 12:01 am |

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