Unraveling the Mysteries of the Sun

Varun Mondaiyka, Writer

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The Sun. It is the source that provides all energy to the Earth and is essential for life to grow and progress. But how much do we actually know about the sun? We know that its energy comes from nuclear fusion and that the sun is an average star (average size and age), but we know very little else. For example, why is the corona (or atmosphere of the sun) hotter than the surface? Well, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe aims to do just that. The Parker Solar Probe was launched on August 12 earlier this year and hopes to shed light on the mysteries of the sun.

The Parker Solar Probe was an idea that started 60 years ago. It posed a challenge that was hard to accomplish; it required 55 times as much energy to get to the Sun compared to getting to Mars. This has to do with the same reason why Earth doesn’t just crash into the Sun. The Sun has a large amount of gravity that affects the Earth, but the Earth stays in orbit due to the speed it travels at. The Earth, and everything on it, travels about 67,000 mph perpendicular to the sun’s force of gravity. This means that if you aim a rocket to the sun, it will keep moving to the side and miss the sun. The only way to not do this is to cancel the speed with a force, in other words, get the rocket to travel 67,000 mph in the opposite direction. This is far faster than previous rockets. To escape Earth’s orbit rockets go 25000 mph and to get to Mars requires 29,000 mph, even going to Pluto only requires 36,000 mph. In order to get this fast the spacecraft has the strongest rocket possible and is using a boost from other planets, but unlike most gravity assists, the probe will use Venus’s gravity to slow down not speed up. The project as a whole was and will continue to be a tremendous undertaking and now the probe starts its 7-year mission to the sun.