NASA blasts off historic probe to 'touch Sun'

Adjust Comment Print

In reality, it should come within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of the solar wind and the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, which is 300 times hotter than its surface.

Trailing a plume of fiery exhaust visible for scores of miles around, the huge 1.6-million-pound rocket majestically climbed away from launch complex 37B at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, arcing away on an easterly trajectory over the Atlantic Ocean.

Parker Solar Probe spacecraft was launched on Sunday.

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.

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 spacecraft is protected from melting during its close shave with the Sun by a heat shield just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick. It has been outfitted with a heat shield created to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass.


"The spacecraft must operate in the sun's corona, where temperatures can reach millions of degrees", Brown told ABC News via email.

Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, said: 'The sun is full of mysteries.

Altogether, it will make 24 close approaches over the next seven years.

He added: "It's a whole new phase and it's gonna be fascinating throughout.and we're just waiting for the data now so the experts can get busy because there's a lot of data will be coming in".

"We are ready. We have the flawless payload".

The mission has been more than two decades in the making with the idea first proposed in the Nineties. "We know the questions we want to answer".


The spacecraft has been named after 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who was one of the many spectators who arrived at the launch site to watch the historic moment.

"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.

Zurbuchen also described the probe as one of NASA's most "strategically important" missions.

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments.

The delicate instrument comes equipped with an array of instruments and tools which will scan the Sun for solar winds and magnetic fields.

"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!" she told BBC News.


Comments