NASA launches Parker Solar Probe, journey to explore the sun begins

Aug 12, 2018, 21:54
NASA launches Parker Solar Probe, journey to explore the sun begins

No human-made vehicle has ever come so close - leading the American space agency to claim the probe will "touch" 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 car-sized satellite was blasted into space from the Florida base at 3.31am eastern time (8.31am BST) on Sunday morning.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel at some 430,000 miles per hours - the fastest ever human-made object, fast enough to travel from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

Even though it will repeatedly fly through the corona, Parker will not experience such extreme temperatures because the ionized gas making up the outer atmosphere is so tenuous.

"Until you actually go there and touch the sun, you really can't answer these questions", said Project Scientist Nicola Fox. SolO will go to within 42 million km of the Sun's surface.

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Greeting the launch - on the back of a mammoth Delta-IV Heavy rocket - NASA tweeted: "3-2-1... and we have liftoff of Parker #SolarProbe atop @ULAlaunch's #DeltaIV Heavy rocket".

"Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said. With each orbit it will push closer and closer to the sun, ultimately circling the star at a distance that is less than 10 radii of the sun.

To shield the probe from the Sun's intense heat and radiation, the Parker probe is armed with a novel carbon-composite shield.

Speechless is not a word typically used to describe Nicky Fox, mission scientist for the Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

Sensors will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times and it will correct itself if it ends up at the wrong angle.

The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the USA is set to study the "solar winds" proposed in the paper by Dr Eugene Newman Parker, who has now become the first living scientist to have mission named after him.

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It is expected to launch in 2020, arriving at its closest position to the Sun towards the end of Parker's planned seven years of operations.

The Parker probe is named after U.S. astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who developed a pioneering theory on supersonic solar wind in 1958.

"All I can say is "Wow, here we go, we're in for some learning over the next several years", he said when asked how he felt.

This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living person.

The corona gives rise to the solar wind, a continuous flow of charged particles that permeates the solar system and can cause havoc with communications technology on Earth.

These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but have the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.

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A worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade to fully recover from, experts have warned.

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