University of Minnesota
School of Physics & Astronomy

General News

Solar probe to provide closest-ever observations of a star

Parker Solar Probe
Parker Solar Probe

The Parker Solar Probe scheduled to be launched on August 11, 2018 will travel closer to the surface of the Sun than any previous spacecraft. Space physicist from the School contributed to the design and build of instruments on the probe.

Professors Cindy Cattell, Paul J. Kellogg, and John Wygant were involved with the probe’s development. Instruments were designed and built by Researcher Director Keith Goetz and Researcher Steve Monson. Visiting Scholars Josh Lynch and Jason Hinze developed software for the probe.

The University was most deeply involved with the FIELDS instrument suite which will make the first in situ measurements of the solar corona., a region of the Sun only seen from Earth when the Moon blocks out the Sun’s face during a total solar eclipse. Though the probe is only the size of a car, it is being launched by the Delta Rocket, one of NASA’s most powerful, because the launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times that required to get to Mars, and twice that needed to get to Pluto.

Parker Solar Probe will use Venus’ gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun. The spacecraft will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere as close as 3.8 million miles to our star’s surface, more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before. (Earth’s average distance to the Sun is 93 million miles.)

Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program, to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.

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