Nasa has unveiled its plan to launch a mission to the Sun next year, in order to study the star’s atmosphere and answer questions about perplexed solar physics.

Marking the world’s first probe to the Sun, the proposed mission is part of Nasa’s Living With a Star (LWS) programme to explore aspects of the sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The programme is managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

Nasa has renamed the mission as Parker Solar Probe in honour of astrophysicist Eugene Parker.

Nasa Washington Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen said: “This is the first time Nasa has named a spacecraft for a living individual.

“The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before."

“It’s a testament to the importance of his body of work, founding a new field of science that also inspired my own research and many important science questions Nasa continues to study and further understand every day.”

In the 1950s, Parker predicted the existence of solar wind. According to him, an entire complex system of plasmas, magnetic fields and energetic particles compose the phenomenon of solar wind.

Parker also theorised an explanation for the superheated solar atmosphere, which, contrary to what was expected by physics laws, is hotter than the surface of the sun itself.

Parker said: “The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before.

“One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are.”

Parker is currently working as a professor at University of Chicago, US.

Image: Illustration of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the sun. Photo: courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.