Spacewatch: Firing up for a close encounter with the sun

Its first close solar approach will be on 5 November.

The mission Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, the closest any man-made instrument has ever got to a star.

That seems a bit counter-intuitive, considering the Sun has an extremely powerful gravitational pull, enough to keep all the gas giants, rocks in the Kuiper Belt as well as the Oort cloud-186 billion miles away-in a tight formation around itself, so a probe from Earth only need to fly straight up and the Sun should catch it and reel it in right?

The answer, explains the space agency, lies in speed.

But even though the Sun has such a powerful pull, it's surprisingly hard to actually go to the Sun: It takes 55 times more energy to go to the Sun than it does to go to Mars. Orbiting the sun at about 107,826 km per hour, relative to the Sun, the Earth is nearly always moving sideways.

On each close approach to the sun, the probe will sample the solar wind, study the sun's corona, and provide close-up observations from around the star.

It will launch using a Delta IV Heavy rocket and on its trip, the probe will perform seven Venus gravity assists over the seven-year mission to shed sideways speed.

The probe will travel at 430,000 miles an hour, faster than any spacecraft in history, and use Venus's gravity over the course of seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the sun.

While shedding the unneeded sideways speed, the probe will pickup overall speed and that speed will be boosted by the extreme gravity near the Sun.

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, is set to use seven Venus fly-bys over almost seven years to steadily reduce its orbit around the Sun, using instruments created to image the solar wind and study electric and magnetic fields, coronal plasma and energetic particles.

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