NASA has sent space probes throughout the solar system and beyond, but today the space agency is detailing its first mission to the sun’s superheated atmosphere. The information will come during an event at the University of Chicago, and you can watch it live here beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern time.
The unmanned Solar Probe Plus probe is scheduled to launch sometime between July 31 and August 19, 2018. It will orbit within 4 million miles of the sun, exploring our star's outer atmosphere and making observations aimed at answering basic questions about “how stars work," NASA said.
"We are safely 93 million miles from our sun's life-giving heat, but NASA's audacious sending a mission...one-twentieth of that distance will give us amazing — and no doubt surprising — information about our star's atmosphere," Dr. Jay Pasachoff, a professor of astronomy at Williams College, told NBC News Mach in an email.
The probe should also help improve forecasts of solar storms and other space weather events that, in addition to harming satellites and astronauts, can seriously disrupt communications and power transmission on the ground.
One recent study found that without advance warning, a large solar event could cause $2 trillion of damage in the U.S. alone and leave the eastern seaboard without power for a year, NASA said.
Participants in the event include:
- Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington, D.C.
- Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland
- Eugene Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago
- Eric Isaacs, executive vice president for research, innovation, and national laboratories at the University of Chicago
- Rocky Kolb, dean of the Division of the Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago