NASA blasts off historic probe to ‘touch the sun’

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NASA on Sunday launched a "dangerous" mission to get closer than it ever gotten before to the Sun, its corona and solar wind.

In an unprecedented quest, the Parker Solar Probe will fly within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface.

Passing within 3.8 million miles of the sun's visible surface - well within the shimmering halo of the outer atmosphere, or corona - the spacecraft's heat shield will endure 2,500-degree heating while whipping past the star at a record 430,000 mph, fast enough to fly from NY to Tokyo in less than a minute.

The Parker Solar Probe lifted off on the Delta IV Heavy rocket a day late, after a dramatic delay on Saturday saw lift-off halted with two minutes to go.

"The launch of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft was scrubbed today due to a violation of a launch limit, resulting in a hold", Nasa, said in a statement.

It will reach Venus in October and will have its first solar encounter in November.

The mission will last 6 years and 11 months, and in that time the Parker probe will orbit the sun 24 times.

The mission is named for Dr Eugene Parker, a physicist at the University of Chicago who proposed the existence of solar wind.

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.

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Zurbuchen also described the probe as one of NASA's most "strategically important" missions. By better understanding the sun's life-giving and sometimes violent nature, Earthlings can better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, and power grids on the ground, he noted.

One of the reasons, scientists are sending the probe is the Sun's atmosphere and the weird property it exhibits, of being hotter than the surface of the sun itself.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun". We've studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury.

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

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth. The Johns Hopkins flight controllers in Laurel, Maryland, will be too far away to help.

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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