NASA is conducting a mission to unlock the mysteries of our sun.

Traveling at speeds of more than 200,000 miles per hour, the Parker Solar Probe is giving scientists a look at the heart of our solar system. Its mission: to study the sun by getting as close as possible.

“Parker Solar Probe has gone inside the orbit of Mercury, so that's closer than we've ever gone before," said Dr. Nicholeen Viall, a NASA scientist.

NASA launched the probe last year and so far it has made three passes around the sun with 21 more still to come. Each pass brings it closer to the surface.

 

Scientists say the data the spacecraft sends back is helping them understand the sun’s outer atmosphere and solar winds, which they’ve found move faster than they expected. That can help them better predict solar storms, which can create disruptions on Earth.

“It can cause problems, like problems with our GPS. It can cause problems with our electric power grids. It can create beautiful things like the Aurora — the northern lights,” said Viall.

The probe is protected from the sun’s extreme heat by carbon-composite shields, which won’t last forever. According to Viall, “Eventually, we won't be able to hold the heat shield between the spacecraft and the sun anymore, and that's when the mission will end."

Between now and then, scientists say the mission will give them a new understanding of our sun and also help them devise new ways to protect astronauts from conditions in space during long trips through the solar system.

The Parker Solar Probe’s mission will continue through 2025. Its next pass by the sun will occur in January.

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