NASA is to launch the first mission to the surface of the sun, enduring hellish temperatures and brutal radiation.
The £1.2 billion Parker Solar Probe will launch next summer to collect data from the edge of the sun’s atmosphere.
It will go 23 million miles closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history, and be the first man-made object to enter the solar atmosphere.
The probe will gather information about our star, which could be used to help scientists predict dangerous solar flares.
It could also solve long-standing mysteries about our sun, helping future space explorers survive the harsh radiation from our parent star.
The car-sized machine will travel around Venus seven times over a period of seven years, before using the planet’s gravity to move closer and closer to the sun – until it reaches a distance of 4 million miles away.
Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said: ‘Four million miles may not sound that close to you, but if the Earth and the Sun were separated by one metre, it would be at 4cm from the sun, so it’s actually very, very close.’
‘We wanted to take the challenge of going to the worst thermal environment in the solar system – and surviving it,’ said Dr Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
‘We want to measure the environment there and find what the heating processes are that make the corona hot, and what processes accelerate the solar wind.’
NASA says that the probe, ‘… will be an extraordinary and historic mission, exploring what is arguably the last region of the solar system to be visited by a spacecraft, the Sun’s outer atmosphere or corona as it extends out into space.
The space agency says that the probe, ‘will repeatedly sample the near-Sun environment, revolutionizing our knowledge and understanding of coronal heating and of the origin and evolution of the solar wind and answering critical questions in heliophysics that have been ranked as top priorities for decades.
‘Solar Probe+ will make a fundamental contribution to our ability to characterize and forecast the radiation environment in which future space explorers will work and live.’