Flying Into the Sun? NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission
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Flying Into the Sun? NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission

January 18, 2020

If you’ve watched enough of our videos,
you know I’ve got an uneasy alliance with the Sun. Sure, it provides the energy we need for all
life on Earth. But, it’s a great big ongoing thermonuclear
reaction, and it’s right there! As soon as we get fusion, Sun, in like, 30
years or so, I tell you, we’ll be the ones laughing. But to be honest, we still have so many questions
about the Sun. For starters, we don’t fully understand
the solar wind blasting out of the Sun. This constant wind of charged particles is
constantly blowing out into space, but sometimes it’s stronger, and sometimes it’s weaker. What are the factors that contribute to the
solar wind? And as you know, these charged particles are
not healthy for the human body, or for our precious electronics. In fact, the Sun occasionally releases enormous
blasts that can damage our satellites and electrical grids. How can we predict the intensity so that we
can be better prepared for dangerous solar storms? Especially the Carrington-class events that
might take down huge portions of our modern society. Perhaps the biggest mystery with the Sun is
the temperature of its corona. The surface of the Sun is hot, like 5,500
degrees Celsius. But if you rise up into the atmosphere of
the Sun, into its corona, the temperature jumps beyond a million degrees. The list of mysteries is long. And to start understanding what’s going
on, we’ll need to get much much closer to the Sun. Good news, NASA has a new mission in the works
to do just that. The mission is called the Parker Solar Probe. Actually, last week, it was called the Solar
Probe Plus, but then NASA renamed it, and that reminded me to do a video on it. It’s pretty normal for NASA to rename their
spacecraft, usually after a dead astronomer/space scientist, like Kepler, Chandra, etc. This time, though, they renamed it for a legendary
solar astronomer Eugene Parker, who developed much of our modern thinking on the Sun’s
solar wind. Parker just turned 90 and this is the first
time NASA has named it after someone living. Anyway, back to the spacecraft. The mission is due to launch in early August
2018 on a Delta IV Heavy, so we’re still more than a year away at this point. When it does, it’ll carry the spacecraft
on a very unusual trajectory through the inner Solar System. The problem is that the Sun is actually a
very difficult place to reach. In fact, it’s the hardest place to get to
in the entire Solar System. Remember that the Earth is traveling around
the Sun at a velocity of 30 km/s. That’s almost three times the velocity it
takes to get into orbit. That’s a lot of velocity. In order to be able to get anywhere near the
Sun, the probe needs to shed velocity. And in order to do this, it’s going to use
gravitational slingshots with Venus. We’ve talked about gravitational slingshots
in the past, and how you can use them to speed up a spacecraft, but you can actually do the
reverse. The Parker Solar Probe will fall down into
Venus’ gravity well, and give orbital velocity to Venus. This will put it on a new trajectory which
takes it closer to the Sun. It’ll do a total of 7 flybys in 7 years,
each of which will tweak its trajectory and shed some of that orbital momentum. You know, trying to explain orbital maneuvering
is tough. I highly recommend that you try out Kerbal
Space Program. I’ve learned more about orbital mechanics
by playing that game for a few months than I have in almost 2 decades of space journalism. Go ahead, try to get to the Sun, I challenge
you. Anyway, with each Venus flyby, the Parker
Solar Probe will get closer and closer to the Sun, well within the orbit of Mercury. Far closer than any spacecraft has ever gotten
to the Sun. At its closest point, it’ll only be 5.9
million kilometers from the Sun. Just for comparison, the Earth orbits at an
average distance of about 150 million kilometers. That’s close. And over the course of its entire mission,
the spacecraft is expected to make a total of 24 complete orbits of the Sun, analyzing
that plasma ball from every angle. The orbit is also highly elliptical, which
means that it’s going really really fast at its closest point. Almost 725,000 km/h. In order to withstand the intense temperatures
of being this close to the Sun, NASA has engineered the Parker Solar Probe to shed heat. It’s equipped with an 11.5 cm-thick shield
made of carbon-composite. For that short time it spends really close
to the Sun, the spacecraft will keep the shield up, blocking that heat from reaching the rest
of its instruments. And it’s going to get hot. We’re talking about more than 1,300 degrees
Celsius, which is about 475 times as much energy as a spacecraft receives here on Earth. In the outer Solar System, the problem is
that there just isn’t enough energy to power solar panels. But where Parker is going, there’s just
too much energy. In a moment, I’m going to talk about the
deep mysteries about the Sun that the Parker Solar Probe is going to help us understand,
but first, I’d like to thank Charles Dunn, Nichola Hammoudeh, Paul Aubin, and the rest
of our 737 patrons for their generous support. If you love what we’re doing and want to
help out, head over to Now we’ve talked about the engineering difficulties
of getting a spacecraft this close to the Sun, let’s talk about the science. The biggest question astronomers are looking
to solve is, how does the corona get so hot. The surface is 5,500 Celsius. As you get farther away from the Sun, you’d
expect the temperature to go down. And it certainly does once you get as far
as the orbit of the Earth. But the Sun’s corona, or its outer atmosphere,
extends millions of kilometers into space. You can see it during a solar eclipse as this
faint glow around the Sun. Instead of dropping, the temperature rises
to more than a million degrees. What could be causing this? There are a couple of ideas. Plasma waves pushed off the Sun could bunch
up and release their heat into the corona. You could also get the crisscrossing of magnetic
field lines that create mini-flares within the corona, heating it up. The second great mystery is the solar wind,
the stream of charged protons and electrons coming from the Sun. Instead of a constant blowing wind, it can
go faster or slower. And when the speed changes, the contents of
the wind change too. There’s the slow wind, that goes a mere
1.1 million km/h and seems to emanate from the Sun’s equatorial regions. And then the fast wind, which seems to be
coming out of coronal holes, cooler parts in the Sun’s corona, and can be going at
2.7 million km/h. Why does the solar wind speed change? Why does its consistency change? The Parker Solar Probe is equipped with four
major instruments, each of which will gather data from the Sun and its environment. The FIELDS experiment will measure the electric
and magnetic fields and waves around the Sun. We know that much of the Sun’s behavior
is driven by the complex interaction between charged plasma in the Sun. In fact, many physicists agree that magnetohydrodynamics
is easily one of the most complicated fields you can get into. Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun,
or ISOIS (which I suspect needs a renaming) will measure the charged particles streaming
off the Sun, during regular solar activity and during dangerous solar storms. Can we get any warning before these events
occur, giving astronauts more time to protect themselves? Wide-field Imager for Solar PRobe or WISPR
is its telescope and camera. It’s going to be taking close up, high resolution
images of the Sun and its corona that will blow our collective minds… I hope. I mean, if it’s just a bunch of interesting
data and no pretty pictures, it’s going to be hard to make cool videos showcasing
the results of the mission. You hear me NASA, we want pictures and videos. And science, sure. And then the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and
Protons Investigation, or SWEAP, will measure type, velocity, temperature and density of
particles around the Sun, to help us understand the environment around it. One interesting side note, the spacecraft
will be carrying a tiny chip on board with photos of Eugene Parker and a copy of his
original 1958 paper explaining the Sun’s solar wind. I know we’re still more than a year away
from liftoff, and several years away before the science data starts pouring in. But you’ll be hearing more and more about
this mission shortly, and I’m pretty excited about what it’s going to accomplish. So stay tuned, and once the science comes
in, I’m sure you’ll hear plenty more about it. I’d love to hear what you think about this
mission, and the mysteries of the Sun. Let me know your thoughts in the comments. In our next episode we talk about the revolution
in gravitational waves. Now there have been three detections, are
we entering a whole new era of gravitational astronomy? That’s next time. As always, it’s time for your playlist. A short group of videos I’ve hand selected
to help you explore this topic more deeply. Let’s start with an official video from
NASA about the Parker Solar Probe, a video about the mystery of coronal heating, an awesome
video of the Sun. An attempt to fly past the Sun in Kerbal Space
Program. Finally, a longer presentation from NASA about
the mission. One interesting sidenote, the spacesh- hmm.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. And U.S. taxpayers continue to disproportionately shoulder the financial burden of space missions that will benefit humanity.

  2. One of my friends told me that there is a massive pool of water under rockets when they launch. Is this true, and if so, why?

  3. How will the mission end? Will there be a controlled impact into the sun to avoid infecting its moons with terrestrial life forms?

  4. Hey Fraser Cain, I know this is off the topic but could you make a video about yourself? about your history like when you started liking space stuff and what age you started? What school? Stuff like that and if you smoke cigarettes hehehe jokes.

  5. I would out a asteroid tracking telescope on that thing If I were building it. Fast orbit and directed directly outwards makes it the best place to look for space rocks. Not sure if they didnt do that.

  6. KSP!!!!

    Heck yeah!! Developing a semi-functional understanding of Delta-V was ROUGH!!
    Definitely would not have had a snowball's chance in hell of learning as much as I did about a wide variety of space, orbital, and LITERAL Rocket Science!! xD

    All thanks to the engaging and surprisingly intuitive play experience offered by Kerbal Space Program!

  7. I know you've done videos on solar flares and the Carrington Event. Would you consider doing one about NASA's Solar Shield (early warning system for power grid and pipelines) project that relies on space-based satellites like DSCVR to warn us of dangerous solar events? I wasn't able to glean enough information to know how effective Solar Shield would be in a near-Carrington Event today.

    If we develop fusion. Could we possibly / ethically steal the hydrogen from the sun so we can burn it more efficiently.

  9. Linking back to last week (I think?), this mission is also a step towards learning a lot of the little fiddly details with starlifting. I'm looking forward to this mission a lot!

  10. when we'll finally develop convenient interstellar travel, "space journalism" will take on a whole new meaning 😀

  11. excuse me for ignorance, but how comes that the temperature around the sun is anything higher than 0K? what is there that conducts heat?

  12. Yeah, I've got a question. Anyone the youtube channel Suspicious0bservers? Well, it proposes some interesting ideas, but to be frank I find the host of that channel to be far too arrogant about what he stands for and too scornful towards the achievements of the ''mainstream'' science community. Plus he doesn't support climate change as a result of human induced emmisions. Suffice to say, I don't like the guy at all. But his knowledge of space weather, the sun, geology and meteorology is truly quite impressive. Over the years he has linked a rather likely statistical correlation between solar magnetic activity and earths geological activity in the form of earthquakes. He has written a paper on this with several other geologists and is trying to get it published. The main theory he uses to explain this is a rather well developed theory of the Electric Universe, which proposes that electro magnetism is the driving force in the universe and is still very much misunderstood. I've tried to do some research in this subject to understand it better, but most you can find on the internet is absolute bogus. I personnally think that the proponents of this theory find too much pride in being ''fringe scientist'' and therefore dispute most achievements of other scientists. Many still deny Einstein's theory of gravity for example, that's a hard fight to start. If they would actually be more willing to see wether their contributions could fit with the current scientific model of the universe they probably would get much better results in my opinion. The question I would like to ask is why I never hear any science journals, or youtube channels openly oppose this group? Many of them are willing to debate on an equal level, pluss they should be opposed. Many of these electric universe proponents are quite hard sceptics of human induced climate change and whenever you hear people say ''it's not greenhouse gasses, it's the sun!'' they are directly refering to this theory and the group that proposes it. I've been trying to get a grasp on this subject because I would love to debate them, and though I have an above average understanding of climate change, geology and space weather, I'm far from being qualified to debate on this subject.

  13. Awesome channel! I have a question. I know the earth is not perfectly round. But how about the gas planets in the solor system, the sun, other stars or maybe blackholes. Are any of them perfectly round? If not do we have anything in space being perfectly round?

  14. What would happen if you were standing right outside the event horizon of 2 black holes just before they merged? Would the gravitational waves tear me apart?

  15. Great as always! I also love the additional playlists you put together for us, sometimes I'll want to find more on a subject but end up with some videos that are more focused on sensationalism than the actual science. Thank you.

  16. Looking at the sun through a solar filter on a 10 inch Newtonian is the most addicting hobby ive taken on lately. Its a few hundred bucks but the reward is forever!!!! I freaking love looking at that gigantic ball of chemistry..

  17. The quality of video and audio & the streaming are great. No problem watching it from Mexico. As I travel to United States, Spain and maybe Poland, I'll keep watching and provide feedback from there.

  18. Brilliant 4K resolution! You can almost see the gravitational waves reflecting off your epic beard! Another win for science lol

  19. Great mission, but once again I have to scream, BUILD BIG ROCKETS. Dr Parker will probably be dead of old age before the spacecraft reaches the sun and begins returning science.

  20. I thought according to NASA that they have to figure how to protect their GPS, electronics, and their instruments before they can send a capsule to Mars let alone the sun how are they going to get this instrument through the Van Allen radiation? How did they get those johnny5 robots through it with everything working to Mars? According to Don Petit NASA destroyed all the moon (Apollo) technology so they have to figure it all out again.

  21. NASA's Parker Solar Probe Mission is an excellent idea as our NASA's Parker Solar Probe would be launched by late July, 2018 or early August, 2018. Only Parker Solar Probe will solve mysteries by making new discoveries when it will be closer toward the Sun rather than Mercury its orbit in our NASA's planetary programs. Years ago, I was young at my age, I finally read about the Solar Telescope in Arizion, U.S.A. in National Geographic as it was very, interested to me. Christa D'Auria

  22. We here at NASA were always planning to name it the Parker Probe posthumously as usual, but the launch date is rapidly drawing nigh and the old fart just refuses to die.

    Just kidding. I am in no way affiliated with NASA.

  23. Fraser, I have recently viewed a few ESA videos (youtube is funny in what it recommends) that speaks of a solar probe, in which one spoke to a 2012 launch. The ESA is quite keen to announce ownership of the probe's technology, manufacturing and mission. ( The mission appears to be very similar to the Parker Probe, now under NASA's management. Can you enlighten us as to how this mission migrated in the many ways that it did, as I can find no info on current ESA craft out there now, and the crafts look very different save for the shield facing the heat radiation. WE have seen many collaborations in recent decades, but not here according to the Goddard video that came out just before you reported here. In fact these ESA videos accredited three different European partners at the end of each video, with little and no mention of NASA, although it appears that those may all be under AIRBUS. I understand that this would not be much of a topic for you to produce an episode around, but I am sure that many are interested in how these programs get bounced around.
    Or: is the ESA doing their own solar mission.

  24. NICE! as soon as you started talking about explaining orbital transfers i was like 'LOL, just play Kerbal Space Program' then you suggested KSP like a true space fan. Scott Manley would approve!

  25. What is the structure of the suns core and atmosphere? Does the sun have a ‘crust’, mantel, and (solid) core? What about the atmosphere, is it divided in shells like the earth has?

  26. "The Sun is the hardest place to get to in the solar system.". I learned that playing Kerbal Space Program when I was trying to get to Moho (KSP stand in for Mercury) 🙂

  27. "Captain the ship is overheating due to our proximity to the sun!!"

    "Let's crash into it to cool off and refuel!"

  28. Thank you for the upload! I shared it with our viewers at Space Weather Channel. Space Weather is a scientist who owns our channel. Come and visit sometime!

  29. #Awesome Video, +FraserCain.
    This Mission will Blow a Fuse in the Minds of those who think they Know It All !!!

    I noticed that your spiel was cut short when the video run out: Is there a Part 2 which continues where you left off?

  30. you can put your name on the memory chip that will be sent on the space probe look it up i already did no joke

  31. we are now few months away from this historic mission. and i am happy to have my name included in the memory card that will be attached to this probe.

  32. Dear Fraser Cain
    Whadda ya think of the idea of resettling the elderly to Mars?
    ie: Retirees are always falling and on earth, this can result in serious injuries, potentially leading to strokes. If we built retirement homes on Mars instead, our old folks would have 60% less gravity to worry about, so that when they inevitably fall (would it be inevitable on Mars? Would they have enough time to right themselves there?) such a fall would not be injurious to them.

    Is this a sensible potential future (once we have a viable colony there, if ever)?

  33. Its been 11 years and still 170k subscribers,are we foolish,this man should have atleast 10m subscribers

  34. I hope you guys got your names in before NASA’s deadline! If you (anybody reading this) weren’t aware, NASA is sending a chip with anybody’s names that were submitted before their deadline which was back in..April? I think? So I’m just super excited that my mom, my girlfriend, and I are all traveling to…. the Sun

  35. When you mentioned the complex orbital mechanics and maneuvering that it will take to get this probe into position, it made me think of the scene in "The Expanse" where the pilot has the ship's AI plot a course through the Jovian system to Ganymede Station using manuvering thrusters only. One of my favorite science fiction scenes from any franchise to date. As silly as some of the plot is in that series (like the fact that mass human labor is required to mine asteroids), they make an effort to stay as true as possible to what real spaceflight is like.

  36. I don't mean to doubt scientists, but they have proven to make mistakes. And what about if they made a mistake about this probe's heat shield and on 11/3/2018 during perihelion a solar flare jumps out at it and melts it from behind, causing the probe to vaporize and turn into plasma, causing the gravitational computations to be inaccurate, as electromagnetic forces will take over, then fall onto the sun, create a huge explosion and wreak havoc on Earth just in time for the US midterms?

  37. NASA spend 1.5 billion dollars to know about the corona of Sun . I know the basic matter about the formation of Stars, Planets, Satellites, Asteroids , Galaxies, the gas and dust clouds of Nebula, the formation of gases on Planets etc etc . I want to sell my theory , for 350 million dollars . If my theory is false or useless , I don't want to take even one dollar.
    NASA don't know any thing about Sun. Since 1954 , It is trying to know about Sun spots and Sun flares . NASA spend nearly 100 billion dollars to know about the formation of the Universe . I am the only man on Earth who know about the formation of the Universe.
    At one day people of USA will recognize the efficiency of NASA .
    I know – 1 – Formation of the Universe . – 2 – Evolution of the Living beings . – 3 – Socialogy. Now this is the most important subject . Now no one know about the situation , and instances which are occurred in the society . Why each society got its own speciality .

  38. May be NASA should also consider sending a mission to orbit Hell and take pictures to confirm if donald trump is there or not

  39. Flying into the sun? That sounds like something many people would consider impossible, but just imagine something impossible like flying into a black hole.

  40. I'm surprised this wasn't done sooner. Sol is defiantly the most amazing celestial body our entire solar system. NASA is defiantly shining these days, no pun intended.

  41. I hope this mission does NOT help us build better atomic bombs. Why don't we send our nuclear waste into the sun?

  42. I heard one information, the inside of the sun was very cool like earth or moon, is it true? But we can't reach, plz explain

  43. Humans are the dumbest species ever. They'll never have FTL to get reach other stars, just brute force neanderthal rockets. That's actually a good thing. The other life planets in the universe are safe from humans.

  44. This video below is animation posted Aug 2018 before Parker launch. Dec 2019 Coast to Coast sent a Parker video launched Nov 2018. Previous launches were 26.5 million miles from the sun. Parker supposedly is 15 million miles. MILLION? Animated artistic representation of NASA claims. Parker is IN video clips. What took PARKER'S PICTURES in the video just sent? @t @

  45. Hey Fraser, question for ya: if solar storms are killer for tech & satellites on/around the earth, what's protecting PSP as it orbits into ejections of charged particles? Aside from the protection of immense heat, does it turn off/reset when it senses surges/shortages? Is it space hardened? Thanks! 😊

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