Nasa launches historic space probe in mission to 'touch' the sun

Parker Solar Probe

Parker Solar Probe

The first pass 15 million miles from the sun's surface will already be the closest by any spacecraft, a distance that will close to within 3.8 million miles by the closest approaches through the sun's super-heated outer atmosphere, or corona.

"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", said Yanping Guo from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who designed the mission trajectory.

The mission's findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts in orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids. Saturday morning's launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

A NASA spacecraft has taken off on an historic mission towards the Sun in a delayed launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida. "To protect itself, the spacecraft has a thermal protection system, or heat shield, that will provide a shadow in which the spacecraft will "hide" to perform its scientific data gathering".

The unmanned spacecraft aims to get closer than any man-made object in history to the centre of our solar system. This is the agency's first mission to the sun and its outermost atmosphere, the corona.

It's also unknown what causes the solar wind to accelerate from a steady breeze to a supersonic flow, or what sparks violent solar storms that eject blobs of material at millions of miles per hour.

Scientists have been debating these questions for decades but NASA said technology has only come far enough in the past few decades to make the solar mission a reality.

"All I can say is wow, here we go".

Where/When to Watch the Perseid Meteor Shower this Weekend
The shower occurs every year between July 17 and August 24, and tends to peak around August 9 to 13. Look for the meteors originating out of the north, though they can appear from anywhere.

A heat shield has been created to keep Parker's instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit or 29 degrees Celsius.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel at some 430,000 miles per hour (692,000 kilometers per hour). The trick was making the spacecraft small, compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus.

The Delta-IV Heavy rocket - which was carrying the probe - launched at 03:31 local time (07:31 GMT).

"The spacecraft must operate in the sun's corona, where temperatures can reach millions of degrees", Brown told ABC News via email. It could be due to interactions between electrically charged particles and the sun's powerful magnetic field, or it could be the result of countless "nanoflares" governed by another mechanism.

The Parker Solar Probe rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Over the next seven years, there will be 24 close approaches to the sun.

The University of Chicago professor said he had been biting his nails in anticipation.

WEB EXTRA: Hear an extended conversation between Harvard Smithsonian astrophysicist Tony Case and KLCC's Brian Bull about the Parker Solar Probe mission, his team's contribution to the project, and how he observed the 20th anniversary of the Thurston School Shooting.

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