Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe takes off for tryst with the sun

NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

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.

And Nasa's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, said: "I'm in awe".

The spacecraft was visible over the Sunshine Coast on Sunday night, after Saturday morning's launch attempt was foiled by technical issues.

The launch took place from pad SLC-37 of the spaceport, the US air force at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

The Solar Probe Cup, dubbed "the bravest little instrument", is a sensor that will extend beyond the heat shield to "scoop up samples" of the Sun's atmosphere, according to Professor Justin Kasper of the University of MI.

"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 aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the centre of our solar system.

"The mission will unlock mysteries of the corona, including why it's so much hotter than the surface of the sun which is about 10,000 Farenheit", Brown said.

Here, it will cross paths with Venus, and be flying within the orbit of Mercury, seven times closer to the sun than any other probe.

The mission's findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids.

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

When closest to the sun, the 4½-inch-thick carbon-composite solar shields will have to withstand temperatures close to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once there, the spacecraft will become the fastest one ever, orbiting the Sun at a whopping 430-thousand miles an hour. Hurling a spacecraft to the sun can actually make sense.

During the journey, the spacecraft will fly by Venus at speeds of 4,30,000 miles per hour, the equivalent of flying from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

Tools on board will measure high-energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun.

The questions posed by Nasa are these: "Parker Solar Probe will set its sights on the corona to solve long-standing, foundational mysteries of our sun".

The craft was supposed to be launched yesterday but it was cancelled due to a helium gas sensor that surpassed a launch limit on the Delta IV-Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance said. It should help explain the corona's extreme heat, the forces driving the solar wind and the energetic particles that shoot out of the sun at more than half the speed of light.

Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral, and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person.

"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week.

The European Space Agency is also building a similar solar probe.

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