A NASA probe has plunged into the sun’s atmosphere as part of a daring mission to learn more about our closest star.
The journey marks the car-sized Parker Solar Probe’s closest solar encounter yet, coming closer to the sun than any man-made object in history.
It began its plunge on Thursday evening and will be out of communication with Earth for several days.
Swooping within 15 million miles of the sun’s surface, the probe will endure temperatures of 2,372 degrees Fahrenheit on its trip.
During the encounter, all four instruments aboard the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) will be collecting data from the sun’s out atmosphere, or “corona.”
Any data collected will be sent back to Earth this spring within a period of several weeks.
It marks the second of 24 planned flybys for the spacecraft.
The last of these, in 2024, will see PSP make a “final descent” into the sun where it will burn up under extreme temperatures.
It’s hoped that the $1.5 billion mission will give NASA an up-close look at how our nearest and dearest star works.
Specifically, NASA is investigating how events know as solar flares erupt from the star.
Flares can disrupt communications on Earth and in extreme cases even knock out power grids.
PSP was launched in August and travels at a top speed of 430,000 miles an hour — faster than any spacecraft in history.
The craft is using Venus’s gravity over the course of its 93 million-miles journey to gradually bring its orbit closer to “touch the sun,” as NASA calls it.
Of course, the spacecraft won’t actually touch the sun — its temperature is a ludicrously toasty 9,932 degrees Fahrenheit and would instantly destroy any probe.
Instead, it will fly into the sun’s atmosphere, where it will observe from a “safe distance” of approximately four million miles away from the star’s surface — protected by a “cutting-edge heat shield”.
“The spacecraft will provide unprecedented information about our sun, where changing conditions can spread out into the solar system to affect Earth and other worlds,” explained NASA in a statement.
“It will trace how energy and heat move through the sun’s atmosphere and explore what accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles.”
According to NASA, this will be the closest-ever observation of a star, traveling through the sun’s atmosphere, or “corona.”
The measurements and imaging captured by the Parker Solar Probe will “revolutionize our understanding of the corona and the sun-Earth connection,” NASA revealed.
This mission is part of NASA’s Living With A Star program, which aims to uncover the secrets of the relationship between the sun and Earth.
The space agency said: “The goal is to provide the comprehensive research needed to understand the many factors affecting the sun-Earth system and thus provide the information necessary for improved forecasting of space weather.
“LWS missions have been formulated to answer specific science questions about the links between the various solar, Earth and space systems that affect space weather.”
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