The world’s first mission to the sun is a mere three months away and will bring NASA’s Parker Solar Probe closer to our star than any other spacecraft has ventured before.
The intrepid solar probe aims to get as close as 4 million miles from the sun’s surface and will embark on a historic mission of finding answers to the most burning questions (pun intended) on star physics.
But the Parker Solar Probe won’t be making the trip alone. Along for the ride will be more than 1.1 million people, who are sending their names to the sun inscribed on a memory card.
The initiative was part of NASA’s “Hot Ticket” campaign, launched in March in celebration of humanity’s first expedition to the sun.
Nicola Fox, project scientist for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, commented on the space agency’s decision to invite the public to join in the excitement and submit their names for the upcoming trip to the sun.
“It’s fitting that as the mission undertakes one of the most extreme journeys of exploration ever tackled by a human-made object, the spacecraft will also carry along the names of so many people who are cheering it on its way.”
The memory card contains a total of 1,137,202 names and was installed on the Parker spacecraft on May 18, NASA revealed. The card was mounted on a plaque (imaged below), which features a dedication to the mission’s namesake, professor emeritus Eugene Parker from the University of Chicago, Illinois. Also on the plaque is a July 2017 quote from the heliophysicist that reads “Let’s see what lies ahead.”
Slated to launch on July 31 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Parker Solar Probe will be carrying sophisticated equipment meant to scope out the solar corona and the energy particle that make up the solar wind — a continuous flow of material that impacts Earth’s atmosphere, as well as that of the other planets, and determines how our solar system interacts with the rest of the Milky Way.
As the Inquisitr previously reported, launch preparations are in full swing, as the Parker Solar Probe was transported to a Florida facility at the beginning of April to have its thermal protection system installed.
“Parker Solar Probe is going to revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, the only star we can study up close,” said Fox.
The spacecraft is bound for the sun’s outer atmosphere and will attempt to uncover why the solar corona is so much hotter compared with the sun’s visible “surface,” also known as the photosphere. As NASA explains, the photosphere reaches temperatures of about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas the solar corona can heat up to 10 million degrees Fahrenheit.
One of the Parker mission’s goals is to find an answer to this coronal heating problem, which NASA describes as “completely counterintuitive” and points out “is similar to walking away from a campfire and suddenly feeling a thousand times hotter.”
Another focus of the Parker Solar Probe is to glean more insight into how solar wind accelerates as it wafts toward our planet.
“The resulting data may also improve forecasts of major eruptions on the Sun and subsequent space weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space,” NASA officials wrote in a statement earlier this week.
Last year, Parker visited the spacecraft that bears his name and offered his thoughts on NASA’s historic mission.
“From the experience of seeing the probe up close, I understand now the difficult task you are undertaking, and I am sure you will succeed.”
The Parker Solar Probe is the first spacecraft to be named after a living scientist, in recognition of his contributions to the field of solar physics. According to NASA, the memory card that will take the 1.1 million names to the sun has also been inscribed with photos of Parker and a copy of his revolutionary scientific paper, which first theorized the concept of solar wind in 1958.