Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun - A Probe That Flies Into The Sun

Witness the man who raves at the wall
Making the shape of his questions to Heaven

                                                     Pink Floyd - Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun

Solar Probe PlusSolar Probe PlusEvidently, NASA have been raving at walls and devising questions to Heaven for long enough, because we are, in fact, sending a probe into the Sun.

The Solar Probe Plus is to be equipped with an array of instruments known as the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) Investigation. Led by Dr. Justin C. Kasper of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, SWEAP will frantically record and relay as many measurements as it possibly can as it fries its way to within four million miles of the Sun's surface (the photosphere).

Four million miles may seem like a long way, but when you consider that Mercury can be as far as 40 million miles from the Sun, and that the Sun itself has a diameter of nearly a million miles, you're getting pretty close. And then, when you realize that temperatures in the Sun's corona - which is around 2,000 miles outside the photosphere - are roughly one million Kelvin, you may start being impressed.

Then, of course, there's the small issue of the crushing gravity that is 28 times what you find here on Earth. Oh, and the solar wind pushing against it at over 1.5 million miles per hour.

So, if it's such a difficult task, why bother? Well, it gets back to these questions to Heaven. Questions like, why are coronal temperatures so much greater than those on the photosphere? (where temperatures are closer to 4,000 K); and why does the solar wind accelerate four times faster than we expect it to? And then there's one more question that's a little closer to home: how do we best understand the radiation environment to be experienced by future space travelers?

If all goes according to plan, the Solar Probe Plus will be launched in 2015, do seven Venus flybys, and plummet into the Sun in 2023. When your ultimate goal is to crash into the Sun, how can you possibly fail?

This is how they hope it all pans out: