ACTUAL Space Force Will Land On The Sun!
Well, maybe not "land," but tomorrow at 3:11 am NASA is sending the Parker Solar Probe on a mission to the Sun. Why? Don't we know everything about our provider of heat, life and melanoma already? No, silly rabbit. We don't. Why does the corona reach millions of degrees but only thousands of degrees on the surface? It's a mystery! Can we better predict sunspot cycles? It's a mystery! Will a giant floating Windex bottle clean them up? It's a mystery! So, while not landing on the actual surface, the little spaceship will get closer than any other to the Sun. We're talking 3.8 million miles from the sun and while that SEEMS far away, the Earth is 93 million miles away (on average) and that Arizona of the Solar System, Mercury, is still 36 million miles away (yes, on average!). The Parker Solar Probe will be ten times closer to the Sun than Mercury, baking itself at a balmy 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. And you thought YOUR summer has been hot!
Let's come back to all the cool details on the mission in a bit. First, though, a quick primer on our closest star:
The Sun is made of plasma, which is a damn weird state of matter. Usually we think of the more typical three states: solid, liquid and gas. Plasma is the weirdo fourth kid that Hyperion and Theia created. It's a bunch of ionized (stuff with charges) gas that becomes extremely electrically conductive with some crazy giant electric and magnetic fields. You might think all plasma is super hot, because most people that know of it first did so because of the Sun and other stars. Nope. There's also "nonthermal" plasmas that can exist at room temperature.
But back to the subject at hand! In terms of stars, our amigo is considered middle-aged and should remain stable for another 5 billion years. Don't worry about life ending because of the Sun turning into a red giant and burning us all to death. We'll kill ourselves off first via some man-made stupidity that Trump and his Orange Brigade are accelerating. I'm sure you kids know that the sun generates energy via nuclear fusion, our dream approach to limitless, clean energy. However, did you know that while it converts 4 million tons of matter in its core into energy every SECOND, it can take 10,000 to 170,000 years for that energy to be released? I hope you appreciate that sunburn a bit more. It's been thousands of years in the making!
Back to the space ship! Here is the official quote from NASA on the mission goals:
"The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles…Today, this is finally possible with cutting-edge thermal engineering advances that can protect the mission on its dangerous journey. Parker Solar Probe will carry four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind."
The journey will be pretty wild, with speeds of 430,000 mph. How fast is that, really? Little known Carlos Fact©: I commute from Boston to San Diego every week. If I could borrow the Parker, I'd have a 22 second commute. Of course, my windblown hair would need some fixing before going into the office. Now, you don't want to go straight at the Sun at that speed, so to slow down, NASA peeps will have Parker do seven loops around Venus and use the gravitational pull to slow down. I'm sure it will gather some pics for its InstaChatBook thing. Can't pass Venus and not do a space selfie.
Discerning Wonkette readers may have noticed that I wrote that the temperature of the Sun's corona reaches MILLIONS of degrees, but I also wrote that Parker will only be baked at a temp of 2500 degrees. Did I err? No, pendejos! Both are correct. While it flies through the corona, it will pass through areas of million degree heat, but because the DENSITY of the matter it flies through will be so low, it will only heat up to about 2500. Science! Think about it another way. Water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Boil some. Now turn your oven on to 212 degrees F. Stick your left hand in the oven for two seconds and your right one in the water for two seconds. One will be in rather bad shape. You tell me which one. Of course, thousands of degrees is still muuuuuy caliente, but Parker has a pretty chill heat shield to deal with it.
It's too late now, but up until late April you could have had your name added to some sort of list on the space ship and have yourself virtually disintegrated along with Parker after it plummets to its fiery end, sometime in 2025 after the mission is complete. William Shatner himself invited you to add your name! The deadline passed but maybe you could just write your name on a piece of paper and light that on fire while you watch the launch live (you may want a double espresso) right HERE.
So that's our Science Friday version of your Carlos story of the week, but since I have you here at the end, I just want to recommend one of my favorite Danny Boyle movies, Sunshine. Really fantastic sci-fi story that has a controversial third act I won't give away but will say that I actually love the end. See you amigos next week! Oh yeah, and it is now your OPEN THREAD!
I am a biochemist MexiCAN. I also write screenplays, ever hoping to get one made.
email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
follow me at: @RealCarlosSagan