Sci-tech

Nasa spacecraft heads for the Sun

Nasa spacecraft heads for the Sun

During its nominal mission lifetime of just under seven years, the Parker Solar Probe will complete 24 orbits of the Sun, reaching within 3.8 million miles of the Sun's surface at the closest approach.

NASA on Sunday launched the Parker Solar Probe - the space agency's first mission to the sun - that will explore the sun's atmosphere and its outermost atmosphere, the corona.

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

The rocket sets a number of records.

Obviously, this is vital stuff - nothing has ever been closer to the surface of the sun before, so that's something.

On the final three orbits, PSP flies to within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface - more than seven times closer than the current record-holder for a close solar pass, the Helios 2 spacecraft, which came within 27 million miles in 1976, and about a tenth as close as Mercury, which is, on average, about 36 million miles from the Sun.

The Parker Solar Probe during final pre-launch processing, its white heat shield visible at the top. That will set up the first solar encounter in November.

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The probe is created to study the sun's ultra-hot outer atmosphere, called the corona, among other mysteries of our star.

Back in 1958, when the 31-year-old Parker suggested that the charged particles streamed continuously from the Sun and fill up the space, the scientific community refused to believe him.

"Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said.

"I'm anticipating that the results will turn up basic information about why the corona of the Sun is at one million degrees".

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October.

"The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun", the $1.5 billion mission's project scientist, Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, told reporters in advance of today's launch.

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

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"Wow, here we go".

"All I can say is, wow, here we go, we're in for some learning over the next several years", University of Chicago solar physicist Eugene Parker said just after liftoff.

Embarking on a mission that scientists have been dreaming of since the Sputnik era, a Nasa spacecraft hurtled Sunday toward the sun on a quest to unlock some of its mysteries by getting closer than any object sent before.

Yanping Guo, who designed the mission trajectory, said: "The launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times that required to get to Mars, and two times that needed to get to Pluto".

"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.

"I'll bet you 10 bucks it works", Parker said.

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