In 2018, NASA sent a special spaceship called the Parker Solar Probe to study the Sun. Now, it’s about to do something really important on December 24 next year. The spaceship is super speedy, zooming at 435,000 miles per hour, and it’s going to get really, really close to the Sun—closer than anything we made has ever gone. Dr. Nour Raouafi, the boss of the project, says it’s like the spaceship is almost touching a star, kind of like when people landed on the Moon in 1969.
The Parker Solar Probe is on a mission to fly by the Sun many times, getting closer each time. The next time it goes close, it will be only 4% of the distance between the Sun and Earth. But it’s not easy because the spaceship will have to deal with super high temperatures, reaching 1,400°C, because the Sun’s pull is very strong. To handle this, the spaceship goes in and out really fast, using special tools covered by a strong shield to measure things in the Sun’s area.
The main goal of this mission is to understand more about the Sun’s outer part, called the corona, where temperatures are surprisingly more than a million degrees. Scientists want to know why it’s so hot there and why charged particles speed up in the corona. They hope the information collected by the Parker Solar Probe will help make better guesses about the Sun’s behavior, which is important for things like communication and power on Earth, as well as the safety of astronauts.
As the mission reaches its most important point next year, scientists expect to learn a lot about how the Sun works. The data collected during the December 24 close visit, where the spaceship spends a long time near the Sun, will help study the solar wind and its connection to the heating of the corona. Even though the spaceship won’t go closer to the Sun after December, the information gathered is expected to be very useful in understanding the Sun and how it affects space weather. This knowledge can be important for future missions to the Moon and for humans exploring beyond Earth.