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NASA is launching a mission to send a probe into the sun, and it's the first to be named after a living scientist: Eugene Parker and the Parker Solar Probe! Astronomers have found another hot topic, and it's the hottest planet we've ever seen at 4300°C!

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Usually, on SciShow Space news, we'll update you on missions to planets or moons or even the occasional asteroid, but next year, NASA will launch a probe that will go where no probe has gone before: into the Sun.  We've sent probes to the Sun before, but this mission will be the first to fly into the later of plasma surrounding the Sun called the corona, and last week, NASA announced that they were renaming the mission.  They've been calling it solar probe plus but it's now officially known as the Parker Solar Probe after astrophysicist Eugene Parker.  

NASA has never named a mission after a living scientist before, which should tell you something about how important Parker's research has been.  In 1958, he was the first to describe solar wind, the high speed stream of charged particles that shoots out of the Sun.  When solar wind interacts with Earth's magnetic field, it can create auroras, the Southern and Northern Lights, but solar wind can also interfere with satellites, affect astronauts, and mess around with the power grids on Earth.  

Parker's research is the foundation for what we know about solar wind today and since part of the probe's job will be to investigate where the solar wind came from and how it effects Earth, NASA wanted to recognize him with this upcoming mission.  

The probe is expected to launch next summer and it will use Venus's gravity to perform its seven fly-bys around the Sun, over almost seven years.  During its closest fly-bys, it will past just 6.3 million kilometers above the Sun's surface, which is seven times closer than the current record holder, the Helios-2 probe from the 1970s.  Interestingly, these sun missions are the ones where our probes go the fastest, because they're falling into the Sun, and Helios-2 is the current record holder for the fastest man-made object ever.  If all goes according to plan, Parker Solar Probe will beat that record, going 192 kilometers per second, 430,000 mph.

Besides solar wind, the probe will also investigate the corona, which has been baffling astronomers for years.  See, the corona is hundreds of times hotter than the Sun's surface.  The surface is about 5500 degrees Celsius, whereas the corona can be anywhere from half a million to a few million degrees.  Normally, when you move away from a great big ball of fire, the temperature goes down not up, so astronomers would like to figure out why the corona is so dang hot.  They're also hoping to use Parker Solar Probe's data to learn about other stars based on what's happening in our own.  

But the corona isn't the only super hot mystery that's been in the news lately.  In a study published this week in the journal Nature, astronomers announced that they'd found the hottest planet we've ever seen, a gas giant called Kelt-9b, where it can get up to 4300 degrees Celsius.  That's only 1200 degrees cooler than the Sun and the Sun is a fiery constantly exploding ball of plasma, while Kelt-9b, just a regular ball of gas.  The planet is about 650 light years from Earth and it was found using one of the kilodegree extremely little telescopes.  If that telescope sounds familiar, that's because it detected another weird planet recently, called Kelt-11b, which we talked about a few weeks ago.  It was strange because it was kind of puffy with a similar density to Styrofoam.

Like that planet, Kelt-9b is less dense than most gas giants.  Since the planet is so hot, its atmosphere is sort of puffed up.  It's almost three times as massive as Jupiter but only half as dense.  Kelt-9b is probably so hot because its parent star is twice as large and hot as our Sun.  So hot that it could be stripping away the planet's atmosphere.  9b appears to have a superheated gas tail which could mean that its atmosphere is expanding so much that it just floats off into space.  The researchers think the atmosphere might disappear entirely in the next 300 million years.  But even if humans are around then, we might not be able to see it happen.

The planet is fast, finishing an orbit once every 1.5 Earth days, and its star also has an oddly squashed shape.  That combination is causing the planet's orbit to change over time, so even though right now, we can detect it as it passes between its star and Earth, that will only last for another 150 years.  After that, the orbit will have changed so much that we won't be able to see it transit for another 3500 years.  Then again, even if the planet is hidden to us most of the time, in a few hundred million years when we're talking about it going extinct, I imagine we'll be able to zoom over with our warp drives to get a better look.  Looking forward to being dead when that happens.

For now, astronomers hope to observe the planet using the Hubble Space Telescope as well as the James Webb Space Telescope once it launches next year, which could confirm whether that gas tail really exists and how long the planet can survive.  

So from the Parker Solar Probe to Kelt-9b, you could say that things really heated up in space exploration this week.

Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Space news, and especially thank you to all of our Patrons on Patreon for making it possible.  If you would like to learn more about the Parker Solar Probe, check out our earlier video on the mission.