Parker Solar Probe

Prelims level : Science & tech Mains level : Space
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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe a seven-year mission aiming to get the closest ever to the sun has got its revolutionary heat shield permanently attached to the spacecraft.

That heat shield should, in theory, prevent the space craft from being burned by the sun made of reinforced carbon-carbon composite, which is designed to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft nearly 2,500 F (1,377 C).

About Mission:

It is a planned NASA’s robotic spacecraft to probe the outer corona of the sun. Humanity’s first mission to the Sun’s corona, on its journey to explore the Sun’s atmosphere and the solar wind. It will probe

  • Determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic field at the sources of solar wind.
  • Trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind.
  • Determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles.
  • Explore dusty plasma near the Sun and its influence on solar wind and solar energetic particles formation.

It will also hold more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to go to the Sun. Parker Solar Probe is powered by two solar arrays. Unlike solar-powered missions that operate far from the Sun and are focused only on generating power from it, we need to manage the power generated along with the substantial heat that comes from being so close to the Sun.


It will also make critical contributions to our ability to forecast changes in Earth’s space environment that affect life and technology on Earth. Parker Solar Probe will employ a combination of in situ measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and expand our knowledge of the origin and evolution of the solar wind.

Sun’s structure:

  • About 73% of the Sun’s mass is hydrogen, and another 25% is helium and 2% other gasses.
  • The Sun’s layers are different from each other, and each plays a part in producing the energy that the Sun ultimately emits


The site of thermonuclear fusion, which is the engine of the sun. Temperatures here approach 15,000,000 K and pressures exceed 250,000,000,000 atmospheres. The core makes up 50% of the sun’s mass but only 1/64th of the Sun’s volume. All of the energy that emits from the Sun is produced in the core.

Radiative Zone:

The region where energy from the core begins its journey outward, but the material is too dense and hot for heat transfer, and therefore the energy radiates out by creating alternating parallel magnetic and electrical fields, thus moving outward as electromagnetic radiation.

Convective Zone:

A region of less dense material, the energy is primarily carried toward the surface by heat convection currents which carry hot gases toward the surface before they cool and fall back inward

The Sun doesn’t behave the same way all the time. It goes through phases of its own solar cycle. Approximately every 11 years, the Sun’s geographic poles change their magnetic polarity. When this happens, the Sun’s photosphere, chromosphere and corona undergo changes from quiet and calm to violently active. The height of the Sun’s activity, known as solar maximum, is a time of solar storms: sunspots, solar flares and coronal mass ejections. These are caused by irregularities in the Sun’s magnetic field and can release huge amounts of energy and particles, some of which reach us here on Earth. This space weather can damage satellites, corrode pipelines and affect power grids.

Why study Sun:

  • The Sun is the only star we can study up close. By studying this star we live with, we learn more about stars throughout the universe.
  • The Sun is a source of light and heat for life on Earth. The more we know about it, the more we can understand how life on Earth developed.
  • The Sun also affects Earth in less familiar ways. It is the source of the solar wind; a flow of ionized gases from the Sun that streams past Earth at speeds of more than 500 km per second (a million miles per hour).
  • Disturbances in the solar wind shake Earth’s magnetic field and pump energy into the radiation belts, part of a set of changes in near-Earth space known as space weather.
  • Space weather can change the orbits of satellites, shorten their lifetimes, or interfere with onboard electronics. The more we learn about what causes space weather – and how to predict it – the more we can protect the satellites we depend on.
  • The solar wind also fills up much of the solar system, dominating the space environment far past Earth. As we send spacecraft and astronauts further and further from home, we must understand this space environment just as early seafarers needed to understand the ocean.
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