Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Global | By Shelia Dennis

Nasa launches historic space probe in mission to 'touch' the sun

Nasa launches historic space probe in mission to 'touch' the sun

NASA's much-anticipated Parker Solar Probe - a spacecraft which it is said will "touch" the sun - has been launched from Cape Canaveral.

The $1.5 billion craft will travel towards the centre of our solar system on a mission to discover more about unsafe solar storms.

Over the course of almost seven years and 24 solar orbits, the probe will make use of seven Venus flybys to adjust its trajectory.

It is on an unprecedented quest that will take it straight through the edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, just 3.8 million miles from the sun's surface.

NASA hopes the probe will help determine which parts of the sun are providing the energy source for solar winds and solar particles, and how they accelerate to such high speeds.

Image: The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.

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NASA on Sunday launched its ambitious Parker Solar Probe a day later than it was scheduled to after multiple checks exhausted the launch window.

The measurements and imaging captured by the Parker Solar Probe will "revolutionise our understanding of the corona and the Sun-Earth connection", Nasa revealed.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius). The visible surface of the sun has a temperature of about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The probe is set to make 24 passes through the corona collecting data.

"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.

"We are ready. We have the flawless payload". Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person. "We have not been able to answer these questions".

Speaking after the launch, the 91-year-old told NASA TV: "It's a whole new phase and it's going to be fascinating throughout".

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

If all goes well, the Parker Solar Probe will swing by Venus in about six weeks for a gravitational encounter that will help the spacecraft slow down still more.

NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, was thrilled not only with the launch, but Parker's presence.

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe - it's ours, after all - and so this is one of NASA's big-time strategic missions. Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only recently did the heat shield technology capable of protecting sensitive instruments become available.

PSP is carrying four instrument suites created to study the sun's magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

"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".

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