Published: Sun, August 12, 2018
Sci-tech | By April Francis

NASA blasts off historic probe to ‘touch Sun’

NASA blasts off historic probe to ‘touch Sun’

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a NASA rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe was successfully launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - marking the beginning of a seven-year mission that aims to get the probe closer to the sun than any human-made object has gone before.

"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before lift-off, urging it to "go touch the sun!"

"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.

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.

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.

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

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona
NASA Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona

Scientists at the space agency were due to launch the probe yesterday - but it was called off due to "gaseous helium red pressure alarm".

To "touch" the sun, the spacecraft will make a swing by Venus to shed some of its sideways momentum, allowing it to take a more straight shot toward the center of the solar system.

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

It is the first space craft to be named after a living person - astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, who first described solar wind in 1958.

The spacecraft, which will plunge into the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

"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".

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