The Parker Solar Probe, the first space mission named for a living person, launched Aug. 12 on a 7-year mission that will bring it as close as 3.83 million miles from the sun. The probe honors physicist Eugene Parker, who developed the theory of the solar wind. NASA
NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe on Aug. 12 on a mission to a star — our very own sun! You’d think it would be easy to drop down to the center of the solar system under the powerful influence of the sun’s gravity. Like rolling a rock downhill. No, no, no. It actually takes 55 times more energy to get there than it does to go to Mars.
We can understand why it’s so difficult by starting with the Earth, which speeds around the sun mostly sideways (relative to the sun) at about 67,000 miles per hour. That sideways speed keeps it from falling into the sun, the same way the space station has to travel at over 17,000 mph to keep from crashing into the Earth.
Slow down and speed up — why it’s hard to get to the sun
The only way to get to the sun is to ...