NASA Spacecraft Rockets Toward Sun for Closest Look Yet

Clay Curtis
August 12, 2018

NASA on Sunday launched a "dangerous" mission to get closer than it ever gotten before to the Sun, its corona and solar wind.

The Delta IV rocket carrying the probe blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, this morning, after a series of delays.

A Saturday launch attempt was delayed due to a technical glitch. This followed earlier trouble in the countdown. At some points, it will move to just 3.83 million miles from the star's broiling surface.

"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.

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

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

NASA hopes the probe will help determine which parts of the sun are providing the energy source for solar winds and solar particles, and how they accelerate to such high speeds.

In an unprecedented quest, the Parker Solar Probe will fly within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface.

Sensors on the spacecraft will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times. 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.

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If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

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

Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, said: 'The sun is full of mysteries.

"We are ready. We have the flawless payload". Together, the data from these instruments should help scientists answer three foundational questions about our star.

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.

"My PhD research supported an alternate theory for the Sun's magnetic cycle, different from a theory that had been proposed earlier by Parker", Nandi recalls.

The Parker probe is named after United States astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who developed a pioneering theory on supersonic solar wind in 1958.

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

PSP is carrying four instrument suites created to study the sun's magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

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