Saturday, 18 August, 2018

NASA launches mission to fly closer to the Sun than ever before

Parker Solar Probe The Parker Solar Probe is the first mission of its kind
Derrick Tucker | 13 August, 2018, 04:06

The Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion mission.

The predawn skies lit up like daylight as a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy lifted off at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here, carrying the Parker Solar Probe on humanity's first mission to touch the sun.

The $1.5bn (£1.17bn) project is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

Earth's average distance to the sun is 93 million miles. "We know the questions we want to answer".

The probe will make its closest approach in 2024 when the next total solar eclipse is expected to be seen over the US, and with that, the spacecraft will be visible.

After launching on the Delta-IV Heavy rocket - which sounds cool and probably is, yeah, fairly cool - at 03:31 local time in Florida (07:31 GMT) on Sunday, Nasa confirmed the flight trajectory "looked good" and that the probe had successfully separated from the rocket.

"So it's of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict this space weather much like we predict weather here on Earth".

For the last several years, NASA's New Horizons probe has been speeding toward the outer limits of the solar system.

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This is the first time that NASA has named a rocket after a living person, Parker, who proposed the existence of solar wind - a stream of charged particles released from the sun's upper atmosphere 60 years ago. He said it was like looking at photos of the Taj Mahal for years and then beholding the real thing in India.

"It's a whole new phase, and it's going to be fascinating throughout".

I guess we'll have to wait and see what they come back with. All I can say is: "'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next seven years".

Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall.

The specially shielded Parker Solar Probe will have to endure temperatures up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) and solar radiation intensities 475 times higher than we're used to here on Earth. "In 10 to 20 years, a carbon disk will be floating around the sun in orbit, and it will be around until the end of the solar system", CNN quoted Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, as saying.

Forty-three minutes after launch, the spacecraft jettisoned the spent upper stage and began flying on its own. SolO will go to within 42 million km of the Sun's surface.

The launch speed was clocked at 69,000 kilometers per hour and it is expected to top out at more than ten times that speed while in space due to the Sun's gravitational pull. As it gets farther away from the sun and closer to the edge of the solar system, more accurate observations will allow scientists to confirm the presence of a hydrogen wall.

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