Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
Science | By Cecil Little

NASA launches mission to fly closer to the Sun than ever before

NASA launches mission to fly closer to the Sun than ever before

"We're in for some learning over the next several years", as he watched live from the base.

On Sunday afternoon (India time), the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration's most ambitious mission, the Parker Solar Probe, launched off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for its date with the sun.

This will be within 6 million kilometres of the sun's surface, closer than any other spacecraft has been before.

"The launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times that required to get to Mars, and two times that needed to get to Pluto", Yanping Guo of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who designed the mission trajectory, said in a statement.

It will zip past Venus in six weeks and make a first rendezvous with the Sun a further six weeks after that.

Three months later, the Parker Solar Probe will reach its first close approach of the Sun, and will send the data back in December.

Using probe, the scientists want to study the plasma around stars, the structure and dynamics of magnetic fields to measure the levels emitted by the corona energy and the acceleration of the solar wind.

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The probe is created to study the sun's ultra-hot outer atmosphere, called the corona, among other mysteries of our star.

NASA has successfully launched a historic and daring mission to the Sun to gather information about our closest star. "But this is not what happens on the sun".

"Wow, here we go". That probably sounds like a bad idea, blasting something into the sun, the ideal sphere of unfathomably hot plasma at the centre of our solar system.

"It can impact our technology, it disrupts our communications, it can knock out satellites, it creates a hazardous environment for astronauts, and it also can even impact our power grids here on Earth", says Alex Young, NASA Heliophysicist.

"It's of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict space weather much like we predict weather here on Earth", said Young.

Over the next seven years, Parker will fly directly through the Sun's roasting hot outer atmosphere in a bid to unlock some of the solar system's greatest secrets.

To handle the heat it has been covered with a special 4.5 inch thick carbon-composite shield capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C.

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Yet the inside of the spacecraft will stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit. "And it really is the same". So Parker will be the first space ship that close to the solar surface. In 1958, Parker published a paper where he set out the idea of solar wind.

The sun is 93 million miles from Earth. There's not enough time for engineers to receive signals, process them and return instructions before a problem could prove catastrophic.

The Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion mission.

Mission scientists credited Eugene Parker with being the father of their field, heliophysics, calling him a superstar whose work underpins all of the mission's objectives.

In 2017, the craft - initially called the Solar Probe Plus - was renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker.

"I'm in awe", Zurbuchen said. "Whenever you're there, you take a breather and then you start working".

Less than an hour later, mission managers confirmed that the spacecraft separated from the rocket as planned and was safely on its journey.

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Do you know what Nasa are up to these days? This followed earlier trouble in the countdown.

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