NASA spacecraft mission will touch the sun

NASA is set to announce an upcoming space mission that will fly an unmanned spacecraft into the outer edges of the sun.

Lucas Rowe | May 31, 2017

NASA is set to announce an upcoming space mission that will fly an unmanned spacecraft into the outer edges of the sun. It would be the first mission in the history of space flight to make direct contact with the sun.

"Placed in orbit within four million miles of the sun's surface, and facing heat and radiation unlike any spacecraft in history, the spacecraft will explore the sun's outer atmosphere and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the physics of how stars work," said NASA.

The space agency will discuss the mission plans in greater depth in a press conference this Wednesday. Media releases it has already published indicate that this spacecraft will launch in summer 2018 and will travel to within four million miles of the sun's surface to conduct up-close analyses of the corona, the sun's outermost atmosphere.

The corona is hundreds of times hotter than the surface, reaching temperatures of 900,000 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. This spacecraft will be subjected to extreme heat and radiation, although a 4.5-inch carbon-composite outer shell will give the spacecraft protection from temperatures up to 2,552 degrees Fahrenheit.

Astronomers are not sure why the corona is so much hotter than the surface, but NASA suggests that this mission may offer some clues. The corona is also known to heavily influence solar wind, waves of solar particles that strike Earth's atmosphere and affect weather patterns across our planet. The mission might therefore also uncover data that could help predict atmosphere and climate activity on Earth, according to NASA.

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