Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
Research | By Dana Schwartz

NASA launches historic probe to 'touch Sun'

NASA launches historic probe to 'touch Sun'

Zooming through space in a highly elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds of up to 7,00,000 km per hour, setting the record for the fastest spacecraft in history.

"It went off like clockwork", said Omar Baez, the mission's NASA launch manager, said of Sunday's countdown and launch.

The mission may help scientists predict space weather events that can wreak havoc on Earth.

A last-minute technical problem delayed the rocket's planned Saturday launch, with the countdown halted with just one minute, 55 seconds remaining.

Washington D.C, August 12: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Sunday launched the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft. A special component of SWEAP is a small instrument that will look around the protective heat shield of the spacecraft directly at the sun, the only instrument on the spacecraft to do so.

"This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The probe aims to dip directly into our star's outer atmosphere, or corona.

The US space agency NASA has launched a probe that that will get closer to the Sun than any manmade object has ever done before.

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An artist's depiction of the Parker Solar Probe at work around the sun.

With this first-of-its-kind stellar mission, scientists hope to unlock the many mysteries of the sun, a commonplace yellow dwarf star around 4.5 billion years old.

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.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - about 690,000 kilometres per hour, making it the fastest man-made object. Hurling a spacecraft to the sun can actually make sense.

At that point, the Probe will be moving at 430,000 miles per hour, and will become the fastest-moving object ever made by humans.

PSP is carrying four instrument suites created to study the sun's magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind. It also holds a memory card containing more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to travel with the spacecraft to the Sun.

Scientists say that data should help them better understand the Sun's workings by tracing the flow of its energy, studying the solar corona and exploring the acceleration of solar wind. FIELDS will measure electric and magnetic waves around the probe, WISPR will take images, SWEAP will count charged particles and measure their properties, and ISOIS will measure the particles across a wide spectrum.

The craft was supposed to be launched yesterday but it was cancelled due to a helium gas sensor that surpassed a launch limit on the Delta IV-Heavy rocket, United Launch Alliance said. To snuggle up to the sun, it will fly past Venus seven times over seven years. The probe's instrument payload also includes a white-light camera that will take the kinds of pictures of the shimmering corona that are seen on Earth only during a total solar eclipse.

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