Sunday, September 5, 2010

Newsy: NASA to Send Probe into Sun

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NASA hopes to launch an $18 million unmanned spacecraft into the sun’s core by 2018. Scientists hope the data it collects will provide better understanding of the sun’s environment and its effects on Earth.
We’re told to never look at the sun, but NASA has been eyeing it for a new mission, one that would send a probe straight though its core.
The $18 million probe called Solar Launch Plus will allow scientists to better understand solar radiation and its impact on weather patterns here on Earth. The spacecraft will feature a revolutionary carbon-composite heat shield to help withstand temperatures that exceed 2550 degrees Fahrenheit. (NASA)
A scientist at NASA headquarters says it will be the closest a spacecraft has been near the sun: “This spacecraft is actually going to go there and sample the plasma. It’s like tasting, touching, smelling the environment of the sun.”
But while the spacecraft is headed towards sun, the data it will gather will be useful to scientists back home. Kit Eaton of Fast Company notes the mission’s importance: “Firstly, the Sun's weather affects Earth more than you may think, and its even responsible for killing communications satellites in orbit. And secondly because it's in the spirit of pure curiosity: We still don't understand much about our nearest and dearest star.”
The price tag to send a car-sized spacecraft to its fiery death is high, but Rebecca Boyle of Popular Science says it’s the only way to get good data: “No one can answer some fundamental questions about the sun’s evolution. The only way to do it is to go to the source, NASA says. Here's hoping the spacecraft doesn't get burned.”
TIME reports the expedition “will be the first trip to any star, let alone the sun.” NASA says the probe would be launched in 2018.
Writer: Matthew Hibbard


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