NASA launches historic Parker Solar Probe to 'touch Sun'

Ignacio Smith
August 14, 2018

In reality, it should come within 6.16 million kilometres of the Sun's surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of the solar wind and the Sun's atmosphere, which is 300 times hotter than its surface.

At this point, the probe will be moving at roughly 430,000 miles per hour, setting the record for the fastest-moving object made by humanity. With the new probe, NASA is aiming to collect data on corona and its solar winds in order to help understand and predict how it will be further affecting the earth's space environment. Saturday morning's launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

The spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, will transmit its first scientific observations in December, beginning a revolution in our understanding of the star that makes life on Earth possible.

Some scientists scoffed at University of Chicago physicist Eugene Parker's 1958 paper proposing the existence of a solar wind - a constant stream of particles flowing out from the sun that permeates the entire solar system.

"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before lift-off.

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By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around 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 second is how does a solar wind start? Solar weather isn't something most of us are aware of - not like approaching thunderstorms or blizzards or tornadoes - but it impacts our technology, our satellites, the electric grid and our communications networks.

The first information from the mission will be transmitted back to earth later this year.

"We at NASA and the Launch Services Program are thrilled to be part of this mission". The probe's 4.5-inch-thick, 8-foot-wide carbon-composite shield has been built to endure temperatures of up than 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

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Eastern time from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket sporting a rare third stage, giving it extra oomph to boost the payload into an interplanetary trajectory.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun".

Main objectives of Parker Solar Probe? "Now, Parker Solar Probe is operating normally and on its way to begin a seven-year mission of extreme science".

Parker Solar Probe's solar arrays can produce 388 watts of power, depending on configuration. These will help determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic fields at the sources of solar wind, trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind, and determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles. It's the first spacecraft to actively cool solar array wings that are critical to generating power, and onboard sensors will react if any sensitive areas are exposed to excessive heat, commanding the probe to adjust its position.

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