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NASA Announcement on 1st Mission to 'Touch the Sun' Expected Wednesday

NASA officials are scheduled to make an announcement tomorrow (May 31) regarding the agency's first-ever mission to fly directly into the punishing heat of the sun's atmosphere.

The announcement will be part of a live webcast that will be available to watch on NASA TV, or you can watch the event live on Space,com, courtesy of NASA.

The Solar Probe Plus mission is scheduled to launch in the summer of 2018 and will orbit within 4 million miles (6.4 million kilometers) of the sun's "surface," where the probe will "[face]heat and radiation unlike any spacecraft in history," according to a statement from NASA.Mercury, by contrast, orbits the sun at a distance of between 28 and 43 million miles (46 and 70 million km), and the constant stream of radiation and powerful particle storms from the sun have utterly transformed that planet's surface and atmosphere.

This artist’s concept shows the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft approaching the sun. Launching in 2018, Solar Probe Plus will provide new data on solar activity and make critical contributions to scientists' ability to forecast major space-weather events that impact life on Earth. (Image credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)

"[Solar Probe Plus] will explore the sun's outer atmosphere and make critical observations that will answer decades-old questions about the physics of how stars work," the statement said. "The resulting data will improve forecasts of major space-weather events that impact life on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space."

The speakers scheduled to participate in the webcast are: Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate; Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland; Eugene Parker, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago; Eric Isaacs, executive vice president for research, innovation and national laboratories at the University of Chicago; and Rocky Kolb, dean of the Division of the Physical Sciences at the University of Chicago.

Visit Space.com Wednesday for complete coverage of NASA's Solar Probe Plus announcement. 

Follow Calla Cofield @callacofield.Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.

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Calla Cofield
Calla Cofield joined the crew of Space.com in October, 2014. She enjoys writing about black holes, exploding stars, ripples in space-time, science in comic books, and all the mysteries of the cosmos. She has been underground at three of the largest particle accelerators in the world. She'd really like to know what the heck dark matter is. Prior to joining Space.com Calla worked as a freelance science writer. Her work has appeared in APS News, Symmetry magazine, Scientific American, Nature News, Physics World, and others. From 2010 to 2014 she was a producer for The Physics Central Podcast. Previously, Calla worked at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City (hands down the best office building ever) and SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. Calla studied physics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is originally from Sandy, Utah. Contact Calla via: E-Mail – Twitter