UI associate professor plays part in NASA mission to the Sun

An upcoming space launch is preparing to go where science has never gone before, into the sun. This Saturday, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, will launch into space as the first ever mission to set sights on "touching" the sun. 

One man who is a part of the team, Jasper Halekas, an associate professor at the University of Iowa. Halekas has played a role in this historic lift-off for nearly a decade, first getting involved when this plan was merely a proposal. 

"I was involved in designing the optics of the instrument. It’s kind of a camera but for charged particles rather than sunlight or photons like a regular camera so we have lenses but they use electric fields", says Halekas. 

Through this launch NASA is looking to study space weather and solar winds. Halekas’ instrument is what they’ll be using to see if they can measure the solar wind, to get a better understanding of it and its effects on Earth. Halekas explains what those effects can look like, "When solar wind really gets crazy it can actually affect electrical systems, it can effect space craft in orbit, GPS, communication satellites, it can even effect things on the ground like the power grid and electrical systems."

A heat shield is what is allowing this mission to happen, as it should protect the probe from burning up too quickly by reflecting much of the sun. "This is the first of its kind. We’re going seven times closer to the sun than anything man made has ever gone before so it’s really uncharted before," says Halekas. 

While Halekas says they have predictions and theories about what they will find, he says ultimately it’s all about revealing the unknown, "And as as a scientists, that’s what I’m really look forwarding to, the surprises."

Unfortunately because the launch was pushed back, Halekas won’t be able to be there for the launch but he says he will be working remotely on the project. The probe should start sending back information about the sun’s atmosphere in just three months after launch. However, in total it’s a seven year mission which ultimately will end as the probe plunges into the sun. The probe is going to be the fastest man-made object ever. When it approaches the sun it will be moving at a half million miles an hour. 

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