New NASA and ESA Probe Missions Will Get Closer to the Sun Than Ever Before
Does any natural force endure more in the human psyche than the Sun? For purposes both practical and spiritual, pragmatic and social, humans have gathered around the Sun for millennia. And yet, it may be one of the most widely misunderstood parts of our solar system.
For as much as we know about the Sun, the amount we still don't know after centuries of careful investigation may surprise you. According to NASA, scientists still don't know how the Sun's magnetic field is generated.
And that's a big deal. The Sun might be nearly 100 million miles away from Earth, but its magnetic field impacts life on our planet in shocking ways. Literally.
To expand our understanding of the Sun, NASA recently announced two upcoming missions that could teach us more about that big ball of hot plasma.
The space agency will work with the European Space Agency (ESA) to send the Parker Solar Probe and the Solar Orbiter closer to the star than ever before.
"Our goal is to understand how the Sun works and how it affects the space environment to the point of predictability," said Chris St. Cyr of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "This is really a curiosity-driven science."
The Parker Solar Probe mission is scheduled for this summer and the Solar Orbiter will launch in 2020. The Parker will get as close as 3.8 million miles away from the Sun's surface, where it will image solar winds and study magnetic fields as well as plasma and energetic particles. The Orbiter will play things a little more conservative with a 26 million mile approach, as it takes the first-ever photos of the Sun's poles.
"Probe and Solar Orbiter employ different sorts of technology, but—as missions—they'll be complementary," said NASA Goddard research scientist Eric Christian in a statement.
"They'll be taking pictures of the Sun's corona at the same time, and they'll be seeing some of the same structures—what's happening at the poles of the Sun and what those same structures look like at the equator."
It is one of the mysteries that they hope the upcoming missions will (no pun intended) shed some light on.
"There are questions that have been bugging us for a long time," said Parker Solar Probe mission scientist Adam Szabo in a statement.
"We are trying to decipher what happens near the Sun, and the obvious solution is to just go there. We cannot wait—not just me, but the whole community."