Experts from CU helped design Parker Solar Probe on its way to the sun

BOULDER, Colo. – At top speed it will be the fastest object created by humanity. And it is something that scientists have only wondered about.

Robert Ergun and David Malaspina with the University of Colorado at Boulder are just two of the many people involved in the design, creation and launch of the Parker Solar Probe, which was launched Sunday morning for a historic trip to the such a.

The probe, which is as big as a small car, currently moves about 40,000 km / h, but that is nothing compared to its maximum speed, Ergun said. During one of its 24 passes through the sun, it will reach 430,000 MPH, according to NASA.

"This will be the fastest manmade object ever," Ergun said.

It will come within about 3.8 million miles of the sun.

"This is a very daring mission," he said. "They call it risky, daring, cheeky, it's real, the way to describe it best, I've heard is if you put the earth on one goal line and you put the sun on the other goal line. the earth and goes all the way down to the 4-yard-line for the sun, that's 96 percent of the way to the sun, imagine how close it is. "

Ergun is a professor at the department of the CU of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics. He said that CU contributed to the mission in two important ways in 2010.

At first he worked with staff from the University of California at Berkeley on a design and feasibility study to address some of the mission's main concerns. The team examined aspects of the mission, varying from the antennas of the spacecraft against the extreme heat to how the environment could influence the desired measurements, Ergun said. Moreover, the speed of the spacecraft will create a vacuum in space, which will generate other questions about the mission.

Second, Ergun worked on what he calls the "brain" of the electric and magnetic field instrument. It will have to sift through measurements and select which sets of data have to be returned to the earth. It will take a month or two for scientists to get that information, he said, comparing it to downloading a photo of a very old AOL e-mail account.

Communication between the spacecraft and Earth will be a challenge, he said.

Ergun said that this mission should be a response to some of the ancient questions scientists have about the sun, especially why the corona, or outer layer of the sun, is more than 2 million degrees when the surface is about 10,000 degrees.

"Why is the corona so warm?" He said. "The heat comes from the sun to the corona, usually the heat goes from a hot to a cold object, not from a cold to a hot one."

Malaspina, who works in CU's laboratory for atmospheric and space physics , recently returned from Baltimore while overseeing the switch to turn on the instruments of the remote probe. He said the spacecraft will detect physical matter in the form of electrons and ions, measure electric and magnetic fields, collect information about photons, and then send the collected data to Earth.

The spacecraft will reach the sun for the first time in early November, according to NASA. The mission also helps researchers to improve their weather forecasts in space, which can damage the satellites and harm astronauts.

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