NASA launched a probe to 'touch the sun'

NASA launched a probe to 'touch the sun'

NASA launched a probe to 'touch the sun'

Eastern on Sunday. The launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida, is NASA's first mission to explore the sun.

The car-sized, $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe launched on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 6.16 million kilometers of its surface during a seven-year mission.

Running 24 hours late because of a last-minute countdown glitch Saturday, the trek began at 3:31 a.m. EDT (GMT-4) Sunday when the 233-foot-tall Delta's three hydrogen-fueled Aerojet-Rocketdyne RS-68A main engines ignited with a rush of brilliant orange flame and quickly throttled up to 2.1 million pounds of thrust.

A Sun-skimming mission like Parker Solar Probe has been a dream of scientists for decades, but only recently has the required technology - like the heat shield, solar array cooling system, and fault management system - been available to make such a mission a reality. That will set up the first solar encounter in November.

The mission will last 6 years and 11 months, and in that time the Parker probe will orbit the sun 24 times.

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

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things, which I don't know yet, (that) will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said in a NASA interview.

Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall. Zurbuchen expects the data from even this early stage to yield top science papers.

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

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

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NASA hope the breakthrough journey will reveal why the sun's outer layer - the corona - is hotter than the surface.

"Wow, here we go!"

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, will be too far away to help.

"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.

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said. "It's incredible to be standing here today". His 1958 paper was initially ridiculed but has come to be central to our understanding of the solar system and beyond.

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