Sci-tech

NASA Launches Fastest Spacecraft Ever To Research The Sun's Atmosphere

NASA Launches Fastest Spacecraft Ever To Research The Sun's Atmosphere

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.

The launch window was chosen because the probe will rely on Venus to help it achieve an orbit around the sun.

NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community".

The unmanned spacecraft will zip past Venus in six weeks and make a first rendezvous with the Sun, the star closest to the Earth, a further six weeks after that. It is only by getting this close to the sun that we have a chance of answering definitely what accelerates the wind. That probably sounds like a bad idea, blasting something into the sun, the flawless sphere of unfathomably hot plasma at the centre of our solar system.

- This is one hot flight: The first NASA mission to "touch" our sun is underway after a dramatic early morning launch. With each orbit, it will be propelled closer and closer to the sun, ultimately circling the star at at a distance that is less than 10 radii of the sun.

The probe has started its journey to the Sun's fiery corona amidst brutal heat and radiation conditions. To perform these unprecedented investigations, the spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the sun's heat by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft that reach almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. However, the inside of the spacecraft and its instruments will remain at a comfortable room temperature.

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"We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", Zurbuchen said.

Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations.

Why send a probe to the sun? Eventually Parker will dip down to just 3.8 million miles from the sun's surface. It should help explain the corona's extreme heat, the forces driving the solar wind and the energetic particles that shoot out of the sun at more than half the speed of light. It remains unknown how these electrically charged particles pick up speed.

A plaque dedicating the mission to Parker was attached to the spacecraft in May.

At each approach to the Sun, the solar arrays retract behind the heat shield's shadow, leaving only a small segment exposed to the Sun's intense rays.

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

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Parker Solar Probe is a planned NASA's robotic spacecraft to probe the outer corona of the Sun.

The probe will be close enough to watch solar wind whip up from subsonic to supersonic.

The Parker Solar Probe will pass right through the sun's corona, where it will be within 4 million miles of the sun's surface.

The temperature near the sun's corona can be viewed as an obstacle, according to Geoffrey Brown, a public affair officer with the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University.

But the Parker Solar Probe features multiple technologies to cope with the heat threat.

On its second attempt, the Parker Solar Probe - NASA's first mission named for a living person - rumbled from the Space Coast at 3:31 a.m. Sunday atop one of the most powerful American rockets, United Launch Alliance's 233-foot Delta IV Heavy. I'm very proud of the team that worked to make this happen.

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It's also recommending that residents reduce their time spent outside during dusk and dawn, wear long sleeves and long trousers . Make sure doors and windows have tight-fitting screens to keep out mosquitoes and fix or replace screens with tears or holes.

Parker, who first detailed the possibility of solar winds all the way back in 1958, said of the launch "Wow, here we go!"