Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
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NASA probe on closest-ever journey to the Sun

NASA probe on closest-ever journey to the Sun

The first pass by the sun, at a distance of about 15 million miles - three times closer than any previous spacecraft - is expected in November.

The launch lit the night sky at Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:31 am (0731 GMT). The Parker Solar Probe is now racing through space on a path that will eventually bring it within 4 million miles of the sun's surface.

A last-minute technical problem delayed NASA's unprecedented flight to the sun.

The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches (11.43 centimeters) thick, enabling the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the fiery star.

Parker Solar Probe will set its sights on the corona to solve long-standing, foundational mysteries of our Sun.

"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", he said in a Nasa interview which was posted on the agency's Twitter account.

Scientists aim to learn more about the mechanisms that power the solar wind of charged particles the sun sends into the solar system, creating aurorae on Earth and sometimes screwing with our tech. 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. So far, the Helios 2 spacecraft has made the closest approach, which flew within 27 million miles in 1976.


"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.

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

"The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement of the mission."And even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are handsome ― but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere". "All I can say is wow, here we go".

Parker Solar Probe will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun's corona. "We're finally going to be able to answer questions about the corona and solar wind raised by Gene Parker in 1958 - using a spacecraft that bears his name - and I can't wait to find out what discoveries we make".

"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.

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

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