Monday, 20 August, 2018

NASA Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to high-five the sun

NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star NASA Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to high-five the sun
Ellis Copeland | 12 August, 2018, 17:58

A NASA spacecraft zoomed toward the sun Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before. Now 91, Parker, the first living scientist to have a space probe named in his honor, flew to Cape Canaveral to witness his first rocket launch.

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.

At a press conference last week, Parker said of his namesake mission: "I expect to find some surprises".

The probe is protected by heat shields capable of withstanding temperatures up to 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, and it will complete 24 orbits of the sun by 2025, reaching speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour.

The Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft the size of a small vehicle, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida about 3:30 a.m. Sunday, on a seven-year mission.

In particular, scientists hope it will provide information about solar winds and solar energy particles.

"This space weather has direct influence, not always positive, on our technology in space, our spacecraft, it disrupts our communications, it creates a hazardous environment for astronauts and in the most extreme cases can actually affect our power grids here on the Earth", said Alex Young, associate director of NASA's heliophysics program.

"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University said in a tweet right before liftoff.

From Earth, it is 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4 percent of that distance at its closest.

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The probe will reach tremendous speeds as it orbits the sun.

It is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone still alive. Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points.

NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said on Saturday that Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community", and called the probe one of NASA most "strategically important" missions.

It took one of the most powerful rockets in the world to get the mission moving - not because the probe is large or heavy, but because of the speed required to cruise through the solar system.

According to Nasa, this will be the closest-ever observation of a star, travelling through the Sun's atmosphere, or "corona".

"All I have to say is wow, here we go".

A mission to get this close has been on NASA's books since 1958.

Scientists have devised ways to ensure the automated and unmanned probe does not melt in the extreme heat and radiation.

"I'm just waiting for the data". As you might guess, NASA is relying on automation to make this work.

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