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NASA to launch mission to Sun
Looks like NASA is done with the Moon and Mars and now wants to go to the Sun.

NASA is all set to launch its first robotic spacecraft to the Sun, a Solar Probe Plus mission. The mission has been slated for 2018. The spacecraft is planned to get within six million kilometres of the Sun and probe its atmosphere.

The Sun is about 149 million kilometres from the Earth. "This is going to be our first mission to fly to the Sun," said Eric Christian, a NASA research scientist at Goddard Space Flight Centre.

"We can't get to the very surface of the Sun but the mission will get close enough to answer three important questions," Christian added.

Of the three questions, one is that why the surface of the Sun, known as photosphere, is not as hot as its atmosphere, known as the corona. The surface temperature of the Sun is only about 5,500 degrees Celsius while as the atmosphere above it is two million degrees Celsius.

"You would think the farther away you get from a heat source, you would get colder. Why the atmosphere is hotter than the surface is a big puzzle," Christian said.

Another question to which the scientists are looking for the answer is that how the solar wind gets its speed? "The Sun blows a stream of charged particles in all directions at a million miles an hour. But we do not understand how that gets accelerated," Christian said.

And the third question to which the mission is seeking the answers is that why the Sun occasionally emits high-energy particles that are a danger to unprotected astronauts and spacecraft.

The unmanned probe will be equipped with heat tubes known as thermal radiators that will radiate heat that permeates the heat shield to open space. This has been done to protect the instruments which are sensitive to heat.

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