Published: Wed, August 15, 2018
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

NASA launches world's first mission to 'touch' the Sun

NASA launches world's first mission to 'touch' the Sun

NASA's probe will pass by Venus a total of seven times (starting in early October) as it uses the planet's gravity to whip itself ever closer to the star.

Liftoff of the Dollars 1.5 billion mission took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the USA at 3:31 am EDT (1:01 pm Indian Standard Time).

Parker Solar Probe will find out if its cutting edge heat shields will work - this death-defying spacecraft will fly daringly close to the sun - closer than any spacecraft before it.

The mission's objectives include "tracing the flow of energy that heats and accelerates the sun's corona and solar wind, determining the structure and dynamics of the plasma and magnetic fields at the sources of the solar wind and explore mechanisms that accelerate and transport energetic particles".

These explosions create space weather events that can pummel Earth with high energy particles, endangering astronauts, interfering with Global Positioning System and communications satellites and, at their worst, disrupting our power grid.

Scientists expect the $1.5-billion mission to shed light not only on our own dynamic sun, but the billions of other yellow dwarf stars - and other types of stars - out there in the Milky Way and beyond.

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.

The mission is managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland and was built, designed, managed, and operated by John Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Maryland.

Parker Solar Probe will set its sights on the corona to solve long-standing, foundational mysteries of Sun, the US-based space agency said.

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A Saturday morning launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral, and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person. A key question that the probe seeks to answer is how solar wind is accelerated, and for the first time it will be able to look for answers at the very place where this wind originates. "Why has it taken us 60 years?"

According to the U.S. space agency, Parker Solar Probe has been created to withstand the extreme conditions and temperature fluctuations for the mission.

Parker said he's particularly interested in learning more about the heating that occurs during explosive solar flares and storms. And why is the sun's surface, at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 Celsius), just a tiny fraction of the million-plus degree corona?

And Nasa's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, said: "I'm in awe".

ASTRONOMER Professor Eugene Parker was pooh-poohed by the scientific establishment when he first claimed that the sun was "out-gassing" as along ago as 1958.

This lightweight insulation will be accompanied by a finishing touch of white ceramic paint on the sun-facing plate, to reflect as much heat as possible.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said on NASA TV.

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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