This sounds like the plot of a science fiction movie like Sunshine, but NASA is planning to send a spacecraft to orbit the Sun, and it will go closer than any spacecraft has ever been. The craft will orbit inside the Sun’s atmosphere, four million miles from its surface.
The project, called Solar Probe Plus, is slated to launch sometime before 2018.
Four million miles doesn’t sound very close, but it’s still very exciting, since this is a region no other spacecraft (created by us) has ever encountered. NASA plans for the project to “unlock the sun’s biggest mysteries.”
Although the spacecraft will be relatively far from our star’s surface, its carbon-composite heat shield will have to withstand intense radiation, as well as temperatures exceeding 2,550 degrees Fahrenheit.
“The experiments selected for Solar Probe Plus are specifically designed to solve two key questions of solar physics — why is the sun’s outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun’s visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system?” said Dick Fisher, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division in Washington.
“We’ve been struggling with these questions for decades and this mission should finally provide those answers,” said Fisher.