NASA blasts off historic probe to ‘touch Sun’

NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

NASA rocket Delta IV launched the Parker Solar Probe out into space to begin its historic journey to the sun.

Launching in a ball of flame that lit up the night sky, Nasa's Parker Solar Probe today set off on its seven-year odyssey to unlock the secrets of the Sun.

The probe will be 3.9 million miles from the sun's surface, making it the closest spacecraft to the sun's surface in history.

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

A Sun-skimming mission like Parker Solar Probe has been a dream of scientists for decades, but only recently has the required technology - like the heat shield, solar array cooling system, and fault management system - been available to make such a mission a reality.

Looking on at launch was Eugene Parker, the University of Chicago astrophysicist who first theorized the existence of the solar wind in 1958.

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement of the mission."And even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are handsome ― but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere".

The Parker Solar Probe carries a lineup of instruments to study the Sun both remotely and in situ, or directly. But it's only been in the past few years that scientists and engineers could put together a space mission capable of going close enough to get the data to back up the theory.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done fantastic things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn't about to let it take off without him. Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points.

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

"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. A voice could be heard saying: "A daring mission to shed light on the mysteries of our closest star".

One of the reasons, scientists are sending the probe is the Sun's atmosphere and the weird property it exhibits, of being hotter than the surface of the sun itself.

The spacecraft will face heat and radiation "like no spacecraft before it", the agency said.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.

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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