NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is an engineering wonder meant to touch the Sun and expose some of the star’s most jealously guarded secrets. NASA launched the scorch-proof probe in August 2018, and it has been steadily sidling up to our solar system’s scorching inferno for the last three years, researching its magnetic fields and particle physics along the way. It’s been a successful voyage, with the probe setting speed records along the way. It will be the quickest human-made object ever created when it was completed in 2020.
On the other hand, Parker discovers the implications of its high speed: continual bombardment by space dust. Space dust is a ubiquitous component of our solar system and many other planetary systems around the cosmos. Dust particles a quarter the diameter of a human hair, created by asteroids and comets, are in a never-ending dance around the Sun. Parker, whirling about the Sun at absolutely unfathomable speeds, continuously collides with the grains, which heat up, get vaporized and ionized, and create plasma when they collide with its metallic body. Parker is essentially being assaulted with dust at such a high rate that its body is continually exploding with plasma.
The Parker Solar Probe is a game-changing spacecraft that will improve our understanding of the Sun. According to NASA, the spacecraft will journey into the Sun’s atmosphere, especially its corona, exposing itself to extreme heat and radiation to obtain the closest-ever views of Earth’s nearest star.
On August 12, 2018, it was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard the Delta IV-Heavy with Upper Stage. It will exploit the gravity of Venus during seven flybys over seven years to approach as near to the Sun as 3.8 million kilometers.
Scientists from the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP), and Johns Hopkins University have researched the severity of these impacts using Fields, the probe’s magnetic field instrument, and Wispr. This imaging device can take photos of the Sun and check the density of electrons in its corona.
Parker’s safety is jeopardized as a result of these findings. Malaspina and the crew noted that some of the collisions would knock parts of Parker off, such as paint chips or metal, which would interfere with the probe’s navigational cameras. If they were turned off at the correct angle, they would reflect sunlight directly into the Navcam, temporarily blinding Parker.
The wrong type of hit might be catastrophic for Parker, blinding it for long enough to reangle its heat shield incorrectly. The remainder of the spaceship might be fried if it doesn’t have a heat shield protecting it.
On the other hand, Parker has continued to smash its speed records, and as long as it can resist repeated assault, it will only get faster.
Parker took advantage of a Venus flyby in October to gain speed and approach closer to the Sun. On November 21, the spacecraft will reach its next record-breaking perihelion (closest approach to the Sun). At that moment, the probe will be traveling at a speed of 163 kilometers per second and around 8.5 million kilometers from the surface. Mercury, at 36 million kilometers distant, is seven times further away.