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NASA Launching Spacecraft Into the Sun

NASA has announced plans to travel to the sun in 2018. The Agency said it will launch an unmanned spacecraft called Solar Probe Plus into the sun's hot atmosphere to answer questions that have plagued scientists for years.

It will take Probe Plus eight weeks to arrive at the sun. According to Discovery, it will then begin the first of 24 orbits using flybys of Venus to gradually shrink the distance between it and the sun. Though Solar Probe Plus will remain four million miles away from the sun, Discovery reports that it's mission will take it eight times closer to the sun then any other spacecraft, and it will be entering the sun's corona, which means it will have to withstand temperatures of up to 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

NASA is still deciding what instruments will be included on the spacecraft, but for now, we know that the main purpose of the mission is to find out how the sun's heating mechanism works and determine how it whips up the solar wind.

"We want to know what it is that accelerates the plasma," Andy Dantzler, Solar Probe Plus project manager, told Discovery News. "We know it has to do with magnetic fields, but we don't really know how that comes about."

Wired reports that the UK Space Agency also has plans to send a probe to the sun to carry out similar tasks, and if all goes according to plan, their spacecraft will launch in 2017, a year before the NASA probe.

Further Reading

Discovery News

Wired UK