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How the Parker Solar Probe Survives Close Encounters With the Sun

An elaborate cooling system is designed to protect the space probe through sizzling flybys


11 min read
Illustration of the Parker Solar Probe in orbit around the sun.
Illustration: NASA

Over the past six decades, 12 people have walked on the moon, spacecraft have visited every planet from Mercury to Neptune, and four rovers have racked up more than 60 kilometers traveling on the surface of Mars. And yet, despite the billions of dollars spent on the world’s civilian space programs, never has a probe journeyed very close to the sun. The nearest approach, by the Helios B probe in 1976, came no closer than 43 million km.

Why is that? There’s been no lack of interest in the sun—quite the opposite. Of all extraterrestrial bodies, the sun has the largest influence on us: It controls the radiation doses that astronauts experience and also affects the electronics in the myriad satellites on which we increasingly rely. Solar storms can even disrupt electric power grids, as famously happened in 1989, when one such storm blacked out the entire province of Quebec and caused ripple effects on electric grids in the United States.

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A Transistor for Sound Points Toward Whole New Electronics

“Topological” acoustic transistor suggests circuits with dissipationless flow of electricity or light

3 min read
Model of a honeycomb lattice

Model of a honeycomb lattice that serves as the basis for a "transistor" of sound waves—whose design suggests new kinds of transistors of light and electricity, made from so-called topological materials. Electrons in a topological transistor, it is suspected, would flow without any resistance.

Hoffman Lab/Harvard SEAS

Potential future transistors that consume far less energy than current devices may rely on exotic materials called "topological insulators" in which electricity flows across only surfaces and edges, with virtually no dissipation of energy. In research that may help pave the way for such electronic topological transistors, scientists at Harvard have now invented and simulated the first acoustic topological transistors, which operate with sound waves instead of electrons.

Topology is the branch of mathematics that explores the nature of shapes independent of deformation. For instance, an object shaped like a doughnut can be deformed into the shape of a mug, so that the doughnut's hole becomes the hole in the cup's handle. However, the object couldn't lose the hole without changing into a fundamentally different shape.

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Taking Cosmology to the Far Side of the Moon

New Chinese program plans to use satellites in lunar orbit to study faint signals from early universe

3 min read
crescent moon
Darwin Fan/Getty Images

A team of Chinese researchers are planning to use the moon as a shield to detect otherwise hard-to-observe low frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum and open up a new window on the universe. The Discovering the Sky at the Longest Wavelengths (DSL) mission aims to seek out faint, low-frequency signals from the early cosmos using an array of 10 satellites in lunar orbit. If it launches in 2025 as planned, it will offer one of the very first glimpses of the universe through a new lens.

Nine “sister” spacecraft will make observations of the sky while passing over the far side of the moon, using our 3,474-kilometer-diameter celestial neighbor to block out human-made and other electromagnetic interference. Data collected in this radio-pristine environment will, according to researchers, be gathered by a larger mother spacecraft and transmitted to Earth when the satellites are on the near side of the moon and in view of ground stations.

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Rohde & Schwarz

In this webinar you will learn more about solutions for high test speeds and throughput as well as how to cover multiple tests with one set-up.

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