Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
Sci-tech | By Lila Blake

NASA launches probe to go deep into Sun's scorching atmosphere

NASA launches probe to go deep into Sun's scorching atmosphere

Over the next two months, Parker Solar Probe will fly towards Venus, performing its first Venus gravity assist in early October - a manoeuvre a bit like a handbrake turn - that whips the spacecraft around the planet, using Venus's gravity to trim the spacecraft's orbit tighter around the Sun.

NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, was thrilled not only with the launch, but Parker's presence. The mission will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionise our understanding of the corona and how processes there ultimately affect near-Earth space. Saturday morning's launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

Washington D.C, August 12: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Sunday launched the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft.

The craft is equipped with a first of it's kind heat shield, and an internal water cooling system that will protect the instruments from the extreme conditions.

"The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun", the $1.5 billion mission's project scientist, Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, told reporters in advance of today's launch. "It will be the closest human made object to the Sun, going 96% of the distance from the Earth to the Sun".

The corona, visible from Earth during last year's total solar eclipse as a fiery glow around the sun with wispy bands stretching outward, is far hotter than the roiling surface below it.

A NASA spacecraft zoomed toward the sun Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before.

The spacecraft's path through the corona allows it to observe the acceleration of the very solar wind that Parker predicted, right as it makes a critical transition from slower than the speed of sound to faster than it.

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

"There's nothing like a rocket launch live", said Parker, now 91, who watched the launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. Hurling a spacecraft to the sun can actually make sense.

At closest approach, PSP will hurtle around the sun at approximately 430,000 miles per hour.

The Parker Solar Probe rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. "The energy of that (launch) vehicle, the vast size, and when you realize how tiny the Parker Solar Probe satellite is, and you have this big vehicle around it, it's just mind boggling". "The way I like to think about it: In 10 to 20 years, a carbon disk will be floating around the sun in orbit, and it will be around until the end of the solar system". 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.

The other great mystery is the behaviour of 'solar wind, ' a stream of charged particles emitted by the sun to release energy. In 1958, Parker published a paper where he set out the idea of solar wind.

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