Nasa is to announce on Wednesday its intention to embark on a daring mission to ‘touch the sun’.
The organisation will launch a probe which will dip into the surface of the star, and will be the first ever mission to get this close to the sun.
The announcement will be part of a live webcast that will be available to watch on NASA TV.
Nasa is hoping to use the data collected from the probe to help astronomers predict solar storms and explain some of the deepest mysteries surrounding our source of light and heat.
According to a statement from Nasa, the probe will launch in the summer of 2018 and is due to orbit within 4 million miles of the sun’s “surface,” where the probe will “[face]heat and radiation unlike any spacecraft in history”.
Although 4 million miles sounds like a long way by our tiny standards here on Earth, being that close to the sun is likely to be a risk for the spacecraft.
For example, by orbiting the sun at a distance of between 28 and 43 million miles, Mercury’s surface and atmosphere have been completely changed by the constant stream of radiation and particles from the sun.
The spacecraft is likely to face temperatures of up to 1,400°C.
The closest a spacecraft has been before is when Helios 2 came within 27 million miles of the sun in 1976.
How it will help us
The information collected from the probe is likely to help future generations of humans, who may one day live outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
Our world has since grown ever more dependent on a network of technology – both in orbit and on our planet’s surface – that’s vulnerable to a threat we barely understand.
These people will need the knowledge to protect themselves from severe winds of charged particles and radiation.
“[Solar Probe Plus] will explore the sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the physics of how stars work,” the statement from Nasa said.
“The resulting data will improve forecasts of major space-weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.”