This NASA Probe Will Literally Touch The Sun

NASA via Getty Images

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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NASA is building a space probe that will literally touch the Sun, according to Universe Today.

This Solar Probe Plus (SPP) will fly by Venus seven times and use the planet’s gravity to gradually shrink its orbit around the Sun. During this time, it will conduct 24 flybys of the Sun and eventually pass within its upper atmosphere.

After launching in 2018, SPP will fly into the Sun atmosphere and “touch” the star to learn more about its behavior. SPP is currently being designed and built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

SPP will try to measure coronal mass ejections and solar flares, which are a serious hazard. Whenever the Sun emits a burst of these charged particles, it can play havoc with electrical systems, aircraft and satellites on Earth.

“[I]n addition to answering fundamental science questions, the intent is to better understand the risks space weather poses to the modern communication, aviation and energy systems we all rely on,” Dr. Justin C. Kasper, a space science professor at the University of Michigan, said in a press statement. “Many of the systems we in the modern world rely on — our telecommunications, GPS, satellites and power grids — could be disrupted for an extended period of time if a large solar storm were to happen today. Solar Probe Plus will help us predict and manage the impact of space weather on society.”

The sun last produced a powerful coronal mass ejection that struck Earth during the summer of 1859, and it created the largest geomagnetic storm on record. The storm was so powerful that it caused telegraph machines around the world to spark, shocking operators and setting papers ablaze. The event released the same amount of energy as 10 billion atomic bombs.

Researchers estimate that a similar event today would cause $600 billion to $2.6 trillion in damages to the United States alone. National Geographic found that a similar event today would destroy much of the internet, take down all satellite communications, and almost certainly knock out most of the global electrical grid. The Earth would only get about 20 hours of warning.

A similar solar event occurred in 2012, but missed Earth.

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