Parker Solar Probe has passed as close as about five million miles to the surface of the Sun. That’s well inside the Sun’s outer atmosphere. And in a few years, it’ll get closer still — less than four million miles. A thick shield will keep its instruments cool and safe as they go where no spacecraft has gone before.
Its achievement suggests that probes in the far-distant future might be able to get even closer to an even bigger star: Antares, the bright orange heart of the scorpion.
Antares is a supergiant. It’s much brighter, heavier, and larger than the Sun. In fact, if it took the Sun’s place, it would extend beyond the asteroid belt, engulfing the four innermost planets — including Earth.
But it’s also several thousand degrees cooler than the Sun. And because it’s so big, its outer layers are thin and puffy — not much denser than the Sun’s outer atmosphere. So even with present-day technology, a craft like Parker Solar Probe should be able to dip well into the outer layer of Antares, grabbing samples of its material from inside the star.
Of course, that won’t happen anytime soon. We can’t even journey to the nearby stars, and Antares is more than 500 light-years away — an immense gulf between us and this immense star.
Antares is easy to find tonight because it huddles quite close to the Moon. They’re in the south at nightfall and set in the wee hours of the morning.
More about Scorpius tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield