NASA launched a probe to 'touch the sun'

NASA launched a probe to 'touch the sun'

Kenneth Drake
August 12, 2018

Originally slated to fly in the small hours of Saturday morning, the Parker Solar Probe blasted off Sunday from Florida's Kennedy Space Center at 03:31 am EDT / 00:31 PT / 8.31 UMT.

The probe's destination is the sun's corona, which it will fly through over two dozen times, eventually coming within less than 4 million miles (6.4 million kilometers) of our star's surface.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles to the sun (150 million kilometres), and the Parker probe will be within four percent of that distance.

At those speeds, the spacecraft will reach the sun by November, and scientists hope to have early data back from the probe by the end of the year.

The goal is to help scientists figure out what makes the corona hotter than the sun's visible surface and what accelerates charged particles to enormous velocities, producing the solar wind that streams away from the corona in all directions.

"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University said in a tweet right before liftoff.

The car-sized probe will utilise Venus to try and achieve an orbit around the sun by helping to slow it down.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.

Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona
NASA Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona

The Parker Solar Probe will have to travel about 430,000 miles per hour and use a high-tech heat shield to survive the trip.

Experts say a worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade to fully recover from.

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI.

More knowledge of solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars. NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community".

"We are ready. We have the flawless payload".

The spacecraft, which will plunge into the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel at some 430,000 miles per hours - the fastest ever human-made object, fast enough to travel from NY to Tokyo in one minute. A key question that the probe seeks to answer is how solar wind is accelerated, and for the first time it will be able to look for answers at the source of solar wind itself.

The mission is named for Dr Eugene Parker, a physicist at the University of Chicago who proposed the existence of solar wind.

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