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If mankind ever finds a way to send a spaceship to explore the surface of the sun, is it possible for it to send a radio signal back to earth? Is it possible for Houston to transmit a command to the craft from Earth?

Edit: I'm aware of the 8 light minutes between the earth and the sun. Delay and interference are expected. My plot speculates that the craft can "fly" in the Sun's atmosphere and sometimes "dive" into the convective zone. I'm trying to figure out the possibility of maintaining communication with earth when the craft is inside photosphere, chromosphere and convective zone. It would be nice if the pilot could say "Houston, we have a problem." from the Sun!

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Not only is it possible, the Parker Solar Probe will be doing it, and relatively soon! You just need a solar shade (as you would normally) to block direct line-of-sight between the sun and the spacecraft's transmitter/receiver.

Here on earth, we're really good at filtering signal from noise (consider, for example, that we're still listening to Voyager II waaaaay out at the edge of the solar system. The fact that the noise is louder doesn't make the problem substantially more difficult, it just means we have to direct our antennae carefully.

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  • $\begingroup$ The Parker Solar Probe will not go to the surface (which usually means the photosphere) of the sun. It will approach the outer limits of the corona. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Jul 21 '17 at 19:54
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. However by "explore the surface of the sun", I mean actually getting in there. My plot speculates that the craft can "fly" in the Sun's atmosphere and sometimes "dive" into the convective zone. I'm trying to figure out the possibility of maintaining communication with earth when the craft is inside photosphere, chromosphere and convective zone. $\endgroup$
    – A.Z.
    Jul 21 '17 at 20:08
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I like the idea of diving into the sun, like diving into a deep ocean. Isolating, scary. Brighter, though.

If the premise is that it is so electromagnetically noisy by the sun that a signal from Earth would be lost in the noise, your sun skimmer could deploy repeaters in its wake. These repeaters would be automated solar orbiters which would receive and pass along the signal, amplifying and cleaning it at each step.

The first would orbit the sun at a distance such that receipt of the earth signal is not a problem. It would amplify and broadcast it down to the ship, or down to the next repeater deeper in to the sun.

Since abuse by energetic sunstuff is tolerated by your exploration vessel this should be true also for these autonomous repeaters.

enter image description here

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Don’t use light!

Neutrinos will not be any problem, but that would be hard to read for the same reasons. I think the neutrinos produced by the sun fall in a narrow energy band, leaving the rest of the spectrum empty — since they’re not thermalized, they won’t fill out the spectrum like light does with blackbody curves. You might handwave a portable efficient neutrino detector.

Or, use other exotic particles of some kind. At relativistic speeds they have a long lifetime, and the sender tunes the energy so they decay right where the receiver is, and shows up in their detector. Before decaying, they don’t interact with electromagnetism so pass right through matter like ghosts. But the decay priducts include things that can be detected with relative ease.

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Yes, but it would likely put the craft in peril.

Sending the signal is fine, but charged particles within the sun's corona would almost certainly damage/degrade/corrupt the message, causing parts of it to be missing. Corrupted commands could cause the craft to do something we didn't intend it to do (crash, turn off, etc, etc...). This is such a concern that we already don't send commands to probes on Mars when it gets close to being on the opposite side of the sun than we are. Here's a video from NASA explaining the latter: www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuZIroucO6E

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Possibly the best means to communicate wold be a high energy laser tuned to radiate in a "window" where the Sun's output is not as concentrated. Sunlight is like this

enter image description here

Spectrum of Solar Radiation

You can see several "windows" in the Infrared, so a powerful laser in any of these wavelengths would stand out against the solar background. As well, your spacecraft could be easily located against the solar background using the laser as a beacon, and signals could be aimed using a similar laser cantered o the spacecraft's laser spot shining against the Sun.

Because of the long turnaround for signals, the spacecraft would probably need a powerful on board AI in order to handle real time policing and information gathering, with the incoming messages being more attuned to general parameters and software updates as the mission progresses. Since the spacecraft is already far beyond any current or anticipated technology in order to survive in the solar environment, postulating a powerful Ai isn't much of a stretch at that point.

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    $\begingroup$ Where are the “windows”? The yellowcurve fillows the blackbody fairly well and I don’t see any dips in the graph you posted. Did you confuse it with the red curve perhaps? $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    Jul 22 '17 at 12:38
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I wouldn't think so. The radio waves would take about 8 minutes or so to get back to earth and then 8 more to go back, so controlling through radio waves makes little sense. There wouldn't be any time to react to anything (solar flares, incorrect vectors for movement, etc.) With that being said, the sun would create radio waves, interfering with our own (according to http://www.qrg.northwestern.edu/projects/vss/docs/communications/1-what-interferes-with-radio-waves.html) which would only be worse if you got closer to the surface. This would mean our controls and communications wouldn't consistently get through.

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