NASA launches probe to go deep into Sun's scorching atmosphere

NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. NASA's Parker Solar Probe will explore the sun's atmosphere in a mission that launched early Sunday. NASA postponed until August 12, 2018, the launch of the first ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun on a mission to plunge into our star's sizzling atmosphere and unlock its mysteries.

Less than an hour later, mission managers confirmed that the spacecraft separated from the rocket as planned and was safely on its journey. Parker's first approach, at 15 million miles, is expected on November 1.

"This mission truly marks the humanity's first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe", Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

The car-sized probe will give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid. "But this is not what happens on the sun". What is the secret of the scorching corona, which is more than 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, thousands of miles below?

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.

The spacecraft will analyse so-called "space weather", which is large eruptions of radiation from the Sun which batter Earth.

"We can't agree on what's actually going on", Kasper said.

The Parker Solar Probe is equipped with four instrument suites to measure plasma, magnetic and electrical fields and energetic particles, and to image the regions the spacecraft is about to fly through. But an 8-foot-wide carbon composite shield will absorb the intense heat and keep the spacecraft and its instruments cool.

Yet the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit. While this can be 6,000 degrees, the outer atmosphere may reach temperatures of a few million degrees.

ULA Delta IV Parker Solar Probe Heavy Scrub Statement
The device will measure the electromagnetic field of the Sun and determine the nature of the particles emitted by the star. The forecast shows a 60 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch - noted in NASA.

"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. "And it really is the same".

Astrophysicist Eugene Parker, centre, stands in front of the rocket carrying the solar probe named after him. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record of 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) set by NASA's Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976. There's not enough time for engineers to receive signals, process them and return instructions before a problem could prove catastrophic.

"To me, it's still mind-blowing", she said.

The Parker probe successfully separated from the Delta IV Heavy's third stage just over 43 min. into the flight on a trajectory meant to set up seven close passes of Venus that will tee up the spacecraft's solar orbit.

In total, the spacecraft will complete 24 orbits, and the mission is to end in 2025.

Parker said he's particularly interested in learning more about the heating that occurs during explosive solar flares and storms.

"We've been studying the Sun for decades, and now we're finally going to go where the action is", said Alex Young, solar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, in a statement.

Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral, and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person.

"Somehow when you're looking at the real thing, it's quite impressive", he told NASA TV.

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