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Studying the Sun: Solar Probe Plus

Published by Matt on Tue Oct 19, 2010 8:28 am via: NASA
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Dr. Jonathan Cirtain, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and his science team have secured a proposal award of $8.2 million to help build an instrument for the Solar Probe Plus flagship mission to study the sun. Cirtain discusses the instruments being tested at Marshall in the Solar Wind Facility.

The Solar Probe Plus spacecraft with solar panels folded into the shadows of its protective shield, gathers data on its approach to the Sun. Credit: JHU/APL

The Solar Probe Plus spacecraft with solar panels folded into the shadows of its protective shield, gathers data on its approach to the Sun. Credit: JHU/APL

The Solar Probe Plus, a small car-sized spacecraft will plunge directly into the sun’s atmosphere approximately four million miles from our star’s surface. It will explore a region no other spacecraft ever has encountered in an effort to unlock the sun’s biggest mysteries.

For decades, scientists have known that the corona, or the outer atmosphere, is several hundreds of times hotter than the visible solar surface and that the solar wind accelerates up to supersonic speeds as it travels through the corona. In the Solar Probe Plus mission, scientists hope to find answers to the questions: why is the solar corona so much hotter than the photosphere? And how is the solar wind accelerated? The answers to these questions can be obtained only through in-situ measurements of the solar wind down in the corona.

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