NASA launches Parker Solar Probe in hopes of combating space weather

On Sunday morning, NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. PSP is beginning its seven year journey of orbiting around the Sun where it will perform 24 close flybys of its outer atmosphere, the corona.

Scientists expect the craft to make it to the corona within 12 weeks, traveling faster than any previous spacecraft.  PSP will get within 3.83 million miles, of the Sun’s surface and take measurements that will detail its inner workings, including how solar wind — a stream of charged particles flowing constantly — accelerates and why the corona is much hotter than the Sun’s surface.

The namesake of the Parker Solar Probe is Eugene Parker, a groundbreaking solar scientist and professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. Parker first theorized the existence of the solar wind in 1958, which was later proven in 1962.

Scientists believe that a better understanding of the Sun’s systems could help combat space weather, considered one of Earth’s largest natural threats. Space weather erupts from the Sun’s atmosphere and can interfere with radio communications, GPS and electrical grids.

A “worst case scenario” space weather episode could cause more than $2 trillion in damages and require a recovery period of between four and 10 years.

Space weather concerns have prompted bipartisan rallying between Republicans and Democrats. In 2016, the Obama administration issued Executive Order 13744 that crafted national space weather policy.

Recently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent a federal operations plan to the White House for approval. Congress is also currently considering directing funds to develop a space weather plan.

When the Parker Solar Probe returns to Earth in 2025, scientists expect to know much more about how the Sun works. This new knowledge may even allow humanity to explore space outside of this solar system.

 

[Space.com] [BBC] [Washington Post]