Science

NASA blasts off historic probe to ‘touch the sun’

NASA blasts off historic probe to ‘touch the sun’

In reality, it should come within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of the solar wind and the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, which is 300 times hotter than its surface.

"At this point, spacecraft is up and happy", said a spokesman with United Launch Alliance, the company that operates the rocket.

NASA project manager Andy Driesman said: "We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission".

"Go, baby, go!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University shouted at liftoff.

Mankind's first mission to "touch" the Sun may have panned out differently had it not been for Indian-American astrophysicist Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, whose intervention made it possible for a research paper proposing the existence of solar wind to get published 60 years ago.

A Saturday launch attempt was delayed due to a technical glitch.

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI.

NASA on Sunday launched its ambitious Parker Solar Probe a day later than it was scheduled to after multiple checks exhausted the launch window. The extreme pull of the sun's gravity will then accelerate the probe up to insane speeds of as much as 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 km/h) as it grazes the edge of the most powerful object in our corner of the galaxy.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around. Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person.

"I have learnt a very important lesson of my professional scientific career from him: to be generous to the ideas of others, as long as they are not obviously wrong, and even if they contradict my own personal views", he said.

It is said the data gathered by the car-sized probe will "revolutionise" our understanding of the star, which has a huge impact on Earth.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun".

NASA hope the breakthrough journey will reveal why the sun's outer layer - the corona - is hotter than the surface.

The spacecraft's heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures.

With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. A voice could be heard saying: "A daring mission to shed light on the mysteries of our closest star".

More than 1 million names are aboard the spacecraft, submitted last spring by space enthusiasts, as well as photos of Parker, the man, and a copy of his 1958 landmark paper on solar wind.


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