Science

Lift-Off! NASA Launches Parker Solar Probe To 'Touch The Sun'

Lift-Off! NASA Launches Parker Solar Probe To 'Touch The Sun'

As detailed by NASA, the Parker Solar Probe's mission is to "touch" the sun by using gravity assists from Venus to get itself as close as possible to the Earth's nearest star.

Nestled atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, one of the world's most powerful rockets, with a third stage added, Parker Solar Probe blasted off toward the sun with a whopping 55 times more energy than was required to reach Mars.

The Parker Solar Probe lifted off on the Delta IV Heavy rocket a day late, after a dramatic delay on Saturday saw lift-off halted with two minutes to go.

The probe is protected by heat shields capable of withstanding temperatures up to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will complete 24 orbits of the sun by 2025, reaching speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour. But that was her reaction in the wee hours today (Aug. 12) as she watched NASA's Parker Solar Probe launch on an unprecedented mission to the sun.

Over the course of seven years, Parker will make 24 loops around our star to study the physics of the corona, the place where much of the important activity that affects the Earth seems to originate. "We're in for some learning for the next several years", said Eugene Parker, 91, the astrophysicist in whose honour the spacecraft is named.

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done unbelievable things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN. "Each time we fly by, we get closer and closer to the Sun". Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points.

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By the time Parker gets to its 22nd, 23rd and 24th orbits of the sun in 2024 and 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour). The first science data should return sometime in December.

"That's 15 times faster than a speeding bullet".

"Now I have to turn from really biting my nails to thinking about the interesting things [to come] that I don't know yet, which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five, six, or seven years", he said. The cup will glow red when the probe makes its closest approach to the sun, sampling the solar wind and effectively touching the sun.

"Wow, here we go".

U.S. space agency Nasa has launched its mission to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any before. That's further away than Parker but it will still need an impressive shield.

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams", Fox said.

More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind.


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