CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA —
The United States space agency NASA says it will launch a mission next year to send a spacecraft directly into the sun’s atmosphere.
NASA announced the plan at the University of Chicago Wednesday during a ceremony to honor astrophysicist Eugene Parker, whom the Parker Solar Probe is named after.
The probe will gather data on solar activity and give us a better idea of how space-weather events can impact life of Earth.
It will orbit within four million miles of the sun’s surface, about eight times closer to the sun than any spacecraft has ever flown. It will need to withstand heat and radiation no human could endure.
“Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we’ve puzzled over for more than six decades,” said mission scientist Nicola Fox.
“It’s a spacecraft loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface."
Parker was the first scientist to study the phenomenon now known as solar wind and his research changed the way scientists understand the way stars interact with the worlds that orbit them.
WATCH: Parker on solar probe
Solar winds are made of charged gases emanating from the sun. Those winds eventually flow past the Earth at around 1.6 million kilometers per hour and scientists believe they have the capability to cause serious damage to the planet.
At its closest point to the sun, the spacecraft’s 12-centimeter-thick solar shields will need to withstand temperatures of 1300 degrees Celsius.
The probe is on track to launch in August 2018 and is scheduled to last until June 2025.