How close can astronauts get to the Sun?

It is almost impossible to imagine that anyone could go anywhere close to the Sun.

| Updated on: Jul 24 2023, 22:23 IST
Solar Flare
Even in Earth orbit, spacecraft and astronauts can experience severe damage from Sun's radiation. (NASA)
Solar Flare
Even in Earth orbit, spacecraft and astronauts can experience severe damage from Sun's radiation. (NASA)

Do you think any crewed spacecraft could ever reach anywhere close to Sun? Well, Nasa's Parker Solar Probe successfully traversed through the Sun's upper atmosphere, known as the corona, and collected valuable samples of particles and magnetic fields in that region. This was the historic moment for humankind. However, even for it, reaching close to the Sun has its own challenges.

Cooling spaceships is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one as the field of thermal protection has made substantial advancements. Missions like Bepi Colombo, exploring Mercury, and the Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter got very cose due to their sophisticated cooling systems and highly reflective materials. Their survival in such harsh conditions esured that they send valuable data back to Earth.

Hazardous radiation

However, the biggest challenge is radiation. Radiation is a substantial risk and as we approach , the solar maximum, during the 11-year solar cycle that the Sun goes through, the worse it gets. According to BBC's SkyatNight magazine, astronauts in Earth orbit, which is so far away from the Sun can be exposed to lethal doses of radiation. Anyone outside Earth's protective magnetosphere can be subjected to lethal doses of radiation.

What are scientists doing about the risks?

As one gets closer to the Sun, the intensity of dangerous types of radiation increases significantly. So, potential future missions to Mars might employ spacecraft with water-filled walls that double as radiation shields, says SkyNight. Timing may also be crucial - the idea would be to go near the Sun at the solar minimum rather than the solar maximum.

However, that is all conjecture as, living in space itself will still be extremely hazardous.

So, what are the chances of a crewed mission being shot off towards the Sun? From bleak to none at all. Unless, of course, there is a huge breakthrough in technology that will virtually guarantee a safe trip for humans to places near the Sun, like Mercury or even closer.

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First Published Date: 24 Jul, 22:22 IST