Sunday, August 12, 2018

Parker Solar Probe will touch the Sun

But won't it break?

Can you encounter redheads in Czechia? You bet. Over percent – and around two percent at some places.

Czech-German singer Debbi (Deborah Kahl) wanted to Touch the Sun – while others wanted to use the song to touch Metaxa, a fancy Greek alcoholic beverage. She was standing on shoulders of giants but it wasn't full-blown plagiarism because Erin McKeown is a redhead, too. McKeown named her song Slung-Lo but she clearly meant the gravitational slingshot.

Today, NASA successfully launched the Parker Solar Probe from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The gadget – which also wants to touch the Sun – was named after Eugene Parker (*1927), the heliophysicist who developed the concept of the solar wind.

For a decade or so, the probe should be flying along an elipse surrounding the Earth and the Sun – one orbit takes a time comparable to a year. Venus' gravitational field will be helpful to send the probe to the right path.

The closest place the probe should approach is 6 million kilometers from the Sun's center (1/25 of the distance between the Earth and the Sun, thanks Rathnakumar). There's already some plasma around whose temperature is almost 1400 °C. The probe is supposed to be shielded against this heat. The scientific task of the project – approved in the 2009 budget – is to measure the electric and magnetic fields of the plasma, energy flux over there, and determine the "mechanisms" how the particles are accelerate there – I am not quite sure what is used to "measure" the answer to this question and how the data from this gadget are evaluated.

A Škoda car and the driver have been successfully sent to Mars.

The probe contains a memory card with Parker's paper, photograph, and some other fun (names of 1 million people) that makes it as "attractive" as a Tesla car exploited as space debris to orbit around the Earth.

Well, I am more worried about the survival of that probe. The heat is rather extreme there and it may be hard to shield everything properly. Note that the Pioneer anomaly was often hyped as a proof of new physics – but it was due to some very weak but very real heat flux. Near the Sun, the heat flux will be higher by many, many orders of magnitude. Haven't they forgotten about some influence or a hole that will destroy some gadget?

If I could bet that the probe will be dysfunctional after the first approach to the Sun at those 6 million kilometers, I would probably make the bet.

But I want to be wrong. Good luck, Parker space probe.

In the 2016 five-episode Czech sitcom "Kosmo" about the Czech mission to the Moon, Agatha (Ms Eva Josefíková), Miss Chicken Czechia and a girl astronaut, realized that she forgot the sunscreen when it was found out that the Czech space capsule had changed the direction towards the Sun. This girl – who replaced a perfectionist woman who had to be eliminated by the sponsor (a poultry industrialist) because she had too big breasts – became an unlikely hero. She saved the life of the 3 male members of the crew and managed to reach the Moon, too.

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