NASA embarks on "dangerous" mission to the Sun

Cristina Cross
August 12, 2018

The Parker Solar Probe took off this morning from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after NASA was forced to postpone the launch on August 11.

The probe won't actually land on the sun, but it will make history - getting closer than any other man-made object.

NASA on Sunday launched a $1.5 billion spacecraft toward the Sun on a historic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of unsafe solar storms.

The Parker Probe is named after Dr. Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist given credit behind the solar wind theory in the late 1950's.

NASA said the mission to "touch the Sun" will provide scientists with vital new information about our solar system and beyond.

At a press conference last week, Parker said of his namesake mission: "I expect to find some surprises".

The first pass by the sun, at a distance of about 15 million miles - three times closer than any previous spacecraft - is expected in November.

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. The trick was making the spacecraft small, compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds, while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme change in temperature when the spacecraft is out near Venus.

"The outer sun-facing side of the shield will reach 2,500 Fahrenheit at closest approach to the sun". Scientists aim to learn more about the mechanisms that power the solar wind of charged particles the sun sends into the solar system, creating aurorae on Earth and sometimes screwing with our tech.

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It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago. "We're in for some learning over the next several years", he said as he watched the lift-off.

Finally, after two firings of the second-stage engine, the Parker Solar Probe and its Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage were released from the Delta 4.

"To me, it's still mind-blowing, " she said.

He added: "It's a whole new phase and it's gonna be fascinating throughout.and we're just waiting for the data now so the experts can get busy because there's a lot of data will be coming in".

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe - it's ours, after all - and so this is one of NASA's big-time strategic missions.

The corona holds the answers to many of scientists' outstanding questions about the Sun's activity and processes. "Why is the corona hotter than the surface of the sun?"

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

The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun.

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