The Science Alert: Touching a star isn’t easy. The sun is an enormous, searing-hot orb of plasma that generates a chaos of magnetic fields and can unleash deadly blasts of particles at a moment’s notice.
But that is precisely what NASA plans to do – 24 times or more – with its car-size Parker Solar Probe (PSP).
The goal of the AU$2 billion (US$1.4 billion) mission is to edge within 4 million miles (6.4 million kilometres) of the sun, which is close enough to study the star’s mysterious atmosphere, solar wind, and other properties.
Information gathered by the probe may help space weather forecasters better predict violent solar outbursts that can overwhelm electrical grids, harm satellites, disrupt electronics, and possibly lead to trillions of dollars’ worth of damage.
The spacecraft is slated to launch from the Florida coast on Saturday at 3:33 am EDT, should weather cooperate, though NASA has through August 23 to fire off its probe. PSP will reach the sun a few months after launch.
Here are some of the brutal conditions and tremendous challenges NASA’s probe will have to survive to pull off its unprecedented mission.