The sun affects Earth and its inhabitants in so many more ways than just giving a sunburn. Solar flares can affect astronauts, satellites, wide-spread power outages, and more. This is why NASA and the ESA are working together on 2 missions to go to the sun.
The sun gives us a chance to enjoy everything we like in life. We wouldn’t be here without it. But the sun can also hurt us quite a bit and I’m not just talking about a sunburn.
Not surprising considering it’s a giant burning ball of hydrogen, helium and more that is so big it contains 99.8% of mass in the entire solar system with temperatures as hot as 27 million degrees Fahrenheit below the surface that one day will engulf the earth in its fire and bring death to the only planet humans have known
And oh yeah, NASA had to take all of that into consideration because they’re going to it.
Hey guys, I’m Patrick Jones and welcome to cheddar explores. NASA is teaming up with the European space agency for dual missions aimed at studying what the ancient Egyptians referred to as Ra, the sun god or what we call, the sun.
The missions are called Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter and their names hint at what they’re tasked with. Parker will study the surface of the sun up close and solar orbiter will take a wider look at the sun and its poles. Both missions have launch windows between July and October of 2018 and will use the gravity assist from Venus to reach the sun but they’ll reach their desired orbits on vastly different timelines. However, both want to improve our understanding of the sun and all of the ways the sun could mess with us here on earth.
That’s because the sun affects us in ways that aren’t all apparently obvious.
Of course light, heat and the gravity that keeps earth and the solar system in place but it goes further than that. First off, the sun has a protective shield around the solar system called the heliosphere.
I got some help from NASA to explain what the Heliosphere is and why it’s important.
Eric ‘So, the heliosphere is a bubble that the sun has blown in interstellar space.’ ‘ Inside that bubble we call the heliosphere is particles coming from the sun and magnetic field from the sun’
Holly ‘We are essentially embedded in the solar atmosphere.’
Basically, the sun gives off a wind blowing off of it in every direction and the entire solar system rests within it. And being embedded in the solar atmosphere helps shield us from galactic cosmic rays from supernovas, black holes, and neutron stars.
Galactic cosmic rays sound... just... awesome but we’re happy they’re not melting our faces. Now things coming off the sun can also be an issue for a few reasons.
Being within the solar atmosphere we’re subject to solar weather. You’ve probably seen or heard of one of these effects.. Aurora dances along the night sky typically in the polar regions where the atmosphere isn’t as dense. Those are actually charged particles coming off the sun you see flossing for those lucky enough to see.
The sun can dispell particles in a range of ways. That range goes from the heliosphere which is the constant solar wind permeating our corner of the milky way to mass ejections where huge bubbles of particles are ejected and flung outwards.
And when these mass ejections come and they will come again it affects the good people of earth in three ways.
One: astronauts could get sick. This is for astronauts outside of earth’s magnetic field but if we were to send people back to the moon or mars a solar flare could disrupt instruments and even cause radiation sickness.
I can’t think of a worse place to get sick than a small spacecraft heading away from earth.
The second and third reasons have to deal with outages. These bursts can mess with satellites knocking them out unless they’re put in safe mode and they can also cause power outages.
And if you think closer about what a satellite outage actually means remember it affects GPS soooooo
Holly" ‘You can imagine airlines and boats. They need very precise navigation, especially airlines. You don ’t want a pilot to just have kind of an air bar of you know several kilometers. They need precise measurements.’
I think we can all agree to that. The thing is that these outages could last a while
Holly: ‘So if we have a really intense solar storm that hits us and causes widespread power outages, it takes a while to get those transformers back up. So it can create a lot of problems if it’s really intense and that’s why we really want to be able to predict these things.
The parker solar probe will be the closest craft we’ve ever sent towards the sun. Of course, that means it will face blistering heat and radiation, we’re talking 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. In order to obtain actual measurements of the sun’s surface, NASA needed to design a heat shield to protect the onboard instruments. Thanks to the heat shield, parker’s instruments will be able to operate under temperatures about 85 degrees.
Parker’s mission will span seven and a half years launching in July or August of 2018 it’s going to move really fast. It will get up to about 430,000 miles per hour. At that speed, you could go from Philly to DC in one second. From there it will get its first look at the sun in November. Solar Orbiter is going to take a little longer, about 3 and a half years to get to the sun and be placed in an orbit further out. Its mission is to look at the sun’s poles and study how the sun rotates on its axis whereas Parker is going to be closely studying the more nuts and bolts processes.
So good luck to NASA and the ESA on studying our sun because of the idea of being on a plane that suddenly doesn’t know where it's going because the sun has peppered earth like a sneeze of fire is, it’s not good, it’s a nightmare.