Sci-tech

NASA launches Parker Solar Probe, journey to explore the sun begins

NASA launches Parker Solar Probe, journey to explore the sun begins

Nasa's most powerful rocket, which is carrying the satellite, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in the early hours of Sunday morning.

After launching on the Delta-IV Heavy rocket - which sounds cool and probably is, yeah, fairly cool - at 03:31 local time in Florida (07:31 GMT) on Sunday, Nasa confirmed the flight trajectory "looked good" and that the probe had successfully separated from the rocket.

"It will fly directly through the Sun's atmosphere, as close as 3.8 million miles from its surface, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it", NASA wrote.

The mission had been expected to launch on Saturday, but was delayed at the last minute due to a technical problem.

The spacecraft is protected from melting during its close shave with the Sun by a heat shield just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick.

NASA on Sunday, August 12, blasted off its first-ever spaceship to explore the Sun, the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, on a strategic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of unsafe solar storms.

Image: The probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun over seven years.

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.

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Scientists aim to learn more about the mechanisms that power the solar wind of charged particles the sun sends into the solar system, creating aurorae on Earth and sometimes screwing with our tech.

"Until you actually go there and touch the sun, you really can't answer these questions", said Project Scientist Nicola Fox. That's nearly 10 times closer than Mercury gets, and seven times closer than any previous probe.

The plan is that it will slingshot around Venus a load of times, gradually building up speed and moving closer and closer to our galaxy's star. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record of 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) set by NASA's Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976. The first science data should return sometime in December.

NASA project manager Andy Driesman said: "We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission".

"We'll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - NY to Tokyo in under a minute". "It took a while for the Delta IV Heavy to clear the pad", Fox said, "but I was prepared for that, so I didn't panic".

Once there, the spacecraft will become the fastest one ever, orbiting the Sun at a whopping 430-thousand miles an hour.

"All I have to say is wow, here we go".

But then, the launch of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 - becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter - proved them wrong.


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