No, They Won’t Go at Night

When NASA’s Solar Probe Plus dives into the Sun’s atmosphere it will gather data answering two persisting questions of solar physics, why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface and what propels the solar wind:

As the spacecraft approaches the sun, its revolutionary carbon-composite heat shield must withstand temperatures exceeding about 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,550 degrees Fahrenheit) and blasts of intense radiation. The spacecraft will have an up-close and personal view of the sun, enabling scientists to better understand, characterize and forecast the radiation environment for future space explorers.

There will be several different data collecting systems on board:

The SWEAP solar wind experiment will count the electrons, protons and helium ions in the solar wind and measure their properties. It will also catch some in a special cup for analysis.

Another science mission will use a wide-field camera to take 3-D pictures of the solar wind as the spacecraft flies through it. Another will take direct measurements of the sun’s magnetic fields, radio emissions and shock waves, and the one more will take an inventory of the sun’s contents.

Update 09/04/2010: Corrected to state it’s a flyby mission.

5 thoughts on “No, They Won’t Go at Night

  1. I don’t think they’re tossing it into the Sun, as no heat shield could stand up to that. The article said it was going to be sent to four million miles from the Sun, which says to me either a really fast flyby (which wouldn’t have time to gather much data) or, more likely, a very close orbit with a correspondingly short orbital “year”, similar to many of the “hot Jupiter” planets which have been discovered in the last several years.

  2. @David: Thanks for saving my bacon again. You’re right, it’s a flyby. (There’s a diagram of this at the Goddard site.)

  3. Uh, sorry, Mike but it’s not a flyby. A flyby is what the two Pioneer and Voyager probes did at the outer planets, whoosh past, nice to meet you!, and on to the next target. This mission will actually orbit the sun, as Galileo orbited Jupiter and Cassini is orbiting Saturn right now, and will use the gravity of Venus to alter the shape of the orbit on succeeding passes to get closer and closer with each perihelion, until it reaches the minimum distance for its heat shield and secondary cooling system, and will hold the data for transmitting to Earth until after moving further away again to avoid radio interference.

  4. Reminds me of a joke…

    Two Newfies… actually, it can be two anybody, but I thought I’d pick on one of my own…

    Two Newfies talking about their province’s space program.

    “I hear they’re going to send a space probe to the sun?”


    “How can any spacecraft poss’bly stand the heat of the sun?

    “Don’t be stupid. They’re launching it at night.”

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