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Beyond Earthly Skies

Solar Probe Plus: A Mission to the Sun

6 Jul 2014, 22:00 UTC
Solar Probe Plus: A Mission to the Sun
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“Deep beneath the surface of the Sun, enormous forces were gathering. At any moment, the energies of a million hydrogen bombs might burst forth in the awesome explosion…. Climbing at millions of miles per hour, an invisible fireball many times the size of Earth would leap from the Sun and head out across space.”- Arthur C. Clarke, “The Wind from the Sun”Figure 1: Million-degree magnetic loops arching high into the solar corona as viewed in X-rays by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory. Image credit: NASA.The solar wind is a continuous stream of plasma flowing outward from the Sun in all directions. Its effects are apparent throughout the Solar System. The solar wind shapes the magnetic fields of planets, causes the tails of comets to point away from the Sun, weathers the surfaces of airless worlds, etc. Various spacecraft have sampled the solar wind right up to the edge of the Solar System.Surrounding the Sun is a multi-million-degree crown of plasma known as the corona. It extends a few million km from the Sun and it is basically the Sun’s outer atmosphere. In comparison to the hot corona, the average surface temperature of the Sun is a mere 5778 K. The continuous ...

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