Parker Solar Probe launched on sun-study mission

Minnie NorrisAug 13, 2018

NASA launched its Parker Solar Probe at 3:31 a.m.

In this photo provided by NASA, The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun.What part of this mission will "touch" the Sun?

The probe is created to study the sun's ultra-hot outer atmosphere, called the corona, among other mysteries of our star.

The Parker solar probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small vehicle, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, embarking on a seven-year mission which will see it flying into the sun's corona - the outermost part of its atmosphere - within 3.8m miles (6.1 m km) of its surface.

The sun will be orbited 24 times by the probe to learn more about the physics of the corona, the outer ring of plasma around the star, where it is believed much of the solar activity that affects the earth originates.

It was Parker who accurately theorized 60 years ago the existence of solar wind - the supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun and coursing through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical systems on Earth.

NASA has successfully launched a spacecraft destined to become the fastest man-made object ever as it gets closer to the sun than we've been before.

One of those watching the historic moment was Dr Eugene Parker, the now 91-year-old scientist who first suggested the possibility of solar winds in 1958 and who the craft is named after.

It will be flying at speeds of 430,000 miles per hour and endure temperatures of 1,300 degrees Celsius, moving as close as within 6.16 million km of the sun's boiling surface.

Protected by a revolutionary new heat shield, the spacecraft will fly past Venus in October, setting up its first solar encounter in November. The mission, which hopes to uncover the Sun's mysteries, will accumulate a gamut of data about its structure and magnetic and electric fields, as well as the energetic particles cruising near and away from Earth's star.

Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking.

Less than 2 minutes before its planned liftoff on Saturday (Aug. 11), a helium pressure alarm went off on the Delta IV Heavy, thwarting the day's launch attempt.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet, and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said.

"It's a whole new phase, and it's going to be fascinating throughout".

I guess we'll have to wait and see what they come back with.

The Parker probe, which cost a whopping $1.5bn (£1.17bn) left Cape Canaveral last night atop a very big rocket, bound for the centre of our galaxy.

To "touch" the sun, the spacecraft will make a swing by Venus to shed some of its sideways momentum, allowing it to take a more straight shot toward the center of the solar system.

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