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.