The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is planning to send a robotic spacecraft to the Sun next year, which according to the American space agency, will get within four million kilometers of the blazing star and gather important information about its atmosphere.

So far, humans have got success in sending their spacecraft to the moon, distant planets (including Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn), and asteroids, and now it will be interesting to see a spacecraft coming so closer to the scorching hot sun located about 149 million kilometers from the Earth.

Goal of Solar Probe Plus Mission

According to NASA, the Solar Probe Plus mission will study Sun’s atmosphere and observe the solar activities that could potentially impact life on Earth. Eric Christian, a NASA research scientist at the Goddard Space Flight Centre, says the Solar Probe Plus will be NASA’s first mission that will fly to the Sun and attempt to find answers to three important questions:

(1) Why Sun’s corona (the atmosphere of the star) is much hotter than its photosphere (the surface).

(2) How the wind on Sun gets its speed, and,

(3) Why the host star of our Solar System sometimes emits high-energy particles that pose a danger to spacecraft as well as astronauts.

Sun’s Corona

NASA says the temperature at Sun’s corona is nearly two million degrees Celsius—very high compared to the surface temperature of the Sun (about 5,500 degrees Celsius), and scientists want to know the reason behind it.

Scientists also want to study the factors that contribute to the high speed of the solar wind. Likewise, they want to gather more information about high-energy particles emitted by the Sun.

Recently, a study carried out by researchers from the National Academy of Sciences revealed that any Carrington-like solar storm affecting the Earth within next decade would hugely impact human life on Earth, would cost the U.S.

$41.5 billion in daily economic losses, and would leave America’s eastern coast without power for a year.

Protecting the Spacecraft

Scientists at NASA have designed a special carbon-composite shield (11.4-centimetres in width) to protect the spacecraft from high temperatures of 1,370 degrees Celsius. Special heat tubes (thermal radiators) have also been designed that will radiate permeated heat to open space, and would protect heat-sensitive instruments within the spacecraft.

The spacecraft will orbit the Sun at a distance of about four million miles, and gather information about Sun’s corona. According to NASA, the probe will help scientists prepare for any major solar event having the potential to impact life on Earth.