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NASA Space Science

NASA Preps Closest-Ever Sun Mission 111

Posted by timothy
from the ask-your-actuary-if-you'll-be-around dept.
coondoggie writes "NASA today said it had picked five experiments that will ride aboard one of its most ambitious space missions to explore the Sun. The Solar Probe, a car-sized spacecraft, is scheduled to launch no later than 2018 and will fly closer to the Sun's surface than any other probe, NASA stated. Ultimately the spacecraft's goals are to help scientists understand why the sun's outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun's visible surface and what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system, NASA said."
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NASA Preps Closest-Ever Sun Mission

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  • Pfst... (Score:5, Funny)

    by bigredradio (631970) on Friday September 03, 2010 @09:01PM (#33471734) Homepage Journal
    I don't see all the fuss. Why not just go at night?
    • by JustOK (667959)

      or when it's cloudy

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 03, 2010 @09:21PM (#33471866)

      I don't see all the fuss. Why not just go at night?

      You mean, when the sun is beneath the earth? You can't launch a rocket into the ground, dumbass! The Soviets have tried, repeatedly. ...besides, it'll be hard to find in the dark..

    • by Lev13than (581686)
      I don't see all the fuss. Why not just go at night?

      They have to leave in the morning, so that the ship can get there in time for Disaster Area's finale. Just remember not to hit any of the black buttons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jesus_666 (702802)
      Because they need to see the sun in order to make their measurements? Have you ever tried making accurate measurements in a dark room? That just doesn't work at all. They need light to read their instruments (and of course to make sure they're pointing in the right direction; you don't want to accidentally measure Mercury!), thus they go during the day.
      • by Yvan256 (722131)

        you don't want to accidentally measure Mercury

        That's a very insightful tip, as we all know that mercury is poisonous to the touch!

    • by h4rm0ny (722443) on Saturday September 04, 2010 @04:15AM (#33473478) Journal

      I don't see all the fuss. Why not just go at night?

      If you bothered to read a bit more about the probe (yeah, it's Slashdot, who bothers to read?), you'd learn that the probe is going as close as 3 Solar Radii to the surface. The Sun's radius (it is correct to assume equatorial radius rather than mean radius for this purpose), is 6.955×10^5 km, meaning the probe will get as close as 2.087 x 10^6km at which point it states the solar radiation will have been sufficient to heat the probe to 2,550 degrees Fahrenheit.

      Now, that radiation will not suddenly appear at a distance of 3 solar radii. The temperature is an accumulation of the radiation on the journey to that point as well as (and this is perhaps where you went wrong), that accumulated on the return journey up until the point that rate of heat absorption is exceeded by the rate of heat dissipation. What that means, is that although you propose "going at night" as a solution, the probe would in fact have to make it not only too a distance of 3 Solar Radii from the Sun during the hours of night, but also make the journey back again to a safe distance before morning. Even if they timed the mission during Winter (and this is irrelevant as the team are going for a May launch), you'd still face a limited window of around twelve hours. The rate of heat absorption from the Sun's energies will follow an inverse square law and I think it reasonable to consider significant heat build up therefore to kick in around 5 solar radii distance. Remember that heat dissipation in a vacuum is no trivial matter! So basically, in those twelve hours, you'd not only have to traverse a distance of 1.4*10^6km, but completely reverse your momentum to turn around and go back again. This is obviously unfeasible. Even if a spacecraft could be built that could take this sort of stress (strictly in the realms of sci-fi for now), you'd never carry sufficient fuel to generate this amount of energy. True, you could launch your probe from the extreme North or South, where night lasts much longer, but polar launches are extremely extravagant users of fuel - it is pretty much a requirement to launch from the Equatorial band.

      So in short, your idea is a nice fantasy, but impractical if you actually understand the Physics involved.

      • ... you'd still face a limited window of around twelve hours. ... Remember that heat dissipation in a vacuum is no trivial matter! ... you could launch your probe from the extreme North or South, where night lasts much longer ...

        This is supposed to be funny, mods!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "will fly closer to the Sun's surface than any other probe" ...unless the wings are made of wax....

  • by jenningsthecat (1525947) on Friday September 03, 2010 @09:20PM (#33471862)
    ...I hope they don't decide to call it Icarus
  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Friday September 03, 2010 @09:25PM (#33471898) Journal

    Ultimately the spacecraft's goals are to help scientists understand why the sun's outer atmosphere so much hotter than the sun's visible surface and what propels the solar wind ...

    I thought they'd figured that out (recently): Vibrations of the solar magnetic field line loops pump energy into the plasma fraction of the gas above the visible "surface", heating it. Reconnection of the lines cause the new loops to expand like released springs, catapulting the entrapped plasma outward.

    Didn't that work out once they finished the math on the details?

    • by ruffled (1176397)
      Vibrations of the solar magnetic field line loops pump energy into the plasma fraction of the gas above the visible "surface", heating it. Reconnection of the lines cause the new loops to expand like released springs, catapulting the entrapped plasma outward.

      Discoveries like these really make you wonder and marvel at the incredible physics of the universe. I mean, who makes up all this stuff? It's just incredible to see atoms and molecules self-align themselves according to pre-planned rules like gravity
    • Presumably, they're trying to make measurements that will confirm (or contradict) that theoretical work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by f3r (1653221)
      from what I know, all that is based on heavy numerical simulations (prone to errors in the assumptions, lack of more thorough numerics, etc). The simulations are based on parameters determined from measurements made from distances longer than those that will be reached with this new probe, and on assumptions also extrapolated from everything observed "from here". Summed up, that explanation could be right or completely wrong. We have to measure more and from smaller distances.
  • Not true (Score:2, Funny)

    by kpainter (901021)
    Actually, if you RTFA, it says the project will burn money as if it flew close to the sun.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by $RANDOMLUSER (804576)
      NASA gets a tiny tiny fraction of a penny of every tax dollar you pay. Why don't you go troll the Defense Department?
      • by kpainter (901021)

        NASA gets a tiny tiny fraction of a penny of every tax dollar you pay

        I guess 52% of a penny is "tiny tiny". Still, I don't disagree. They don't cost that much. I was just making a joke. Get a sense of humor NASAboi.

        • I thought their budget was in the 10b range, which would put it closer to 1/10th of a penny. I wouildn't call that extremely tiny fraction of a penny, but thats 1/1000th of your tax dollar. or 0.1% of the budget total. I'm going to have to agree with you yelling at the DoD for wastage instead.

      • by Itninja (937614)
        So does the Department of Energy's nuclear weapons program (their budget is 30% larger, but still only a tiny fraction my taxes). But that neither here nor there. I just grow tired of all fanboi-ism surrounding NASA. I think it's beneficial for humankind to explore space too. And there are genuine NASA inventions that directly benefit some people. But it seems that sometimes what is touted as a "NASA invention" were really a "NASA funded invention" from private organizations. I would be like saying CERN "in
  • all that it discovers is a booming voice shouting BURN WITH ME!

  • How does "NASA" SAY anything? This is like "The White House Said..."
    • by Chris Burke (6130)

      Right, which human beings versed in natural language communication automatically interpret as "Official spokespersons for NASA said".

      You'll have to work on that before you can pass the Turing Test. :)

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      I don't know if you know this, but there is a difference between an organization and individuals in an organization, even when those individuals are at the very top. In some cases, they are effectively the same, for instance when the leader of that organization is in near complete control, he can directly speak for the organization. The White House is an example of this. Even then, though, the President often uses a spokesperson. In that case, the President didn't say it, but it is also definitely not t

  • by Anonymous Coward
    From various C&H cartoons, a bunch of his Dad's quotes are collected here: http://elise.com/quotes/a/ask_calvins_dad.php [elise.com] Q. Why does the sun set? A. It's because hot air rises. The sun's hot in the middle of the day, so it rises high in the sky. In the evening then, it cools down and sets. Q. Why does it go from east to west? A. Solar wind. Q. Why does the sky turn red as the sun sets? A. That's all the oxygen in the atmosphere catching fire. Q. Where does the sun go when it sets? A. The sun sets in th
  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...will they set the controls for the heart of the sun?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    When do we land a human on the Sun? It's only exploration if it's done by humans.

    Not only is the earth resource limited, so are all of the planets. We must terraform and colonize the Sun!

    • When do we land a human on the Sun? It's only exploration if it's done by humans.

      Well, problem is they'd need a place to live - and the rent there is outrageous.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by node 3 (115640)

      When do we land a human on the Sun?

      Are you serious? The Sun's way too hot. Humans can't survive on the surface, except at night.

      • by c0lo (1497653)

        When do we land a human on the Sun?

        Are you serious? The Sun's way too hot. Humans can't survive on the surface, except at night.

        So what? Terraform at night time, get underground during the day... keep doing it until terraformation complete.

        • by khallow (566160)

          So what? Terraform at night time, get underground during the day... keep doing it until terraformation complete.

          We should first investigate whether there's any nightlife on the Sun. If there is, that would rule out any work of this sort.

  • "...what propels the solar wind that affects Earth and our solar system."

    The Sun: "Shoo fly, you bother me...Pffffffff"

    Solar Probe: (Fawoooosh!)

    NASA: "Well....Shit. There goes $250 million."

  • by Shag (3737) on Friday September 03, 2010 @10:46PM (#33472340) Homepage

    And a depressed robot to open it.

  • My only question is if the probe runs solaris?
  • Then give it a talking motorcycle.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    For some reason both the article and the probe's homepage skips mentioning how close to the sun this probe will approach. It is based on an earlier, rejected mission that would go as close as 4 solar radii, and to make things cheaper it will go to a closest distance of 9.5 solar radii. That is the perihelion distance - the orbit will be elliptical. For comparison, Mercury's never gets closer to the sun than about 61 times times the radius of the sun.

  • The Solar Probe, a car-sized spacecraft

    So is this the flying car that we all have been waiting for?

    Where can I get one, and what does it cost?

    Does it look like something out of The Jetsons?

  • Trajectory? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    So, does anyone know what the trajectory is? As any rocket scientist knows, a direct (minimum energy Hoffman style) trajectory that would have them skim the surface of the sun (or even get it closer than Mercury) would require a huge amount of delta-V (and a huge rocket for a little payload, we're talking Saturn V size). That, of course is why NASA's Mercury orbiter (now approaching orbital insertion) used several (3-4?) gravity assists using both Venus and Mercury).

    So what is this thing going to do? May

  • what propels the solar wind

    It's the sun.

  • What they aren't telling you is that the space probe actually contains Dracula. NASA got tired of all the vampire stories so they are putting him down.

  • In the first place, wouldn't you love to have been there when they were testing the resistance of the composite carbon solar shield... 'Here Homer, this won't hurt a bit!'. I mean if the heat don't kill ya then the radiation may really upset your day! It must be amazingly well insulated and just how much tax dollars don't we know about the cost of materials that failed the testing necessary to know it wasn't just gonna become a very expensive bottle rocket! (or is it an M-80 on steroids?)
  • In the second place, if they're so sure about sending a probe into the sun's HOTTEST real estate, then why don't they build a second probe, a little fancier than the first one, send it a little past this real estate and just go ahead and punch into the suckker and tell us what it learns on the way in! I mean, they did it to Jupiter so I'm thinkin' 'Hey, what the hell; let's just do it!?'. If they're talking about photons etc, it would be interesting to actually know why theory holds it that it takes possibl
  • If we can slingshot it around the sun and back to the Earth the scientists in 1986 will be overjoyed with the results!

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