Historic NASA mission will be first to 'touch the sun'

A rendering of NASA's Parker Solar Probe the spacecraft that will fly through the Sun's corona to trace how energy and heat move through the star's atmosphere

Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is now on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The probe will orbit around the Sun 24 times, its closest point ultimately being 3.8 million miles. Its launch window will open at 3.48am (eastern daylight time, or 7.48am Greenwich mean time) on Saturday 11 August. It is expected to approach the sun in 2024.

NASA scientists also hope to answer one ongoing mystery: why the sun's atmosphere is 300 times hotter than the surface itself.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

NASA will use the data collected by the Parker probe in order to better prepare us for solar winds, which present problems for satellites and even our power grids here on Earth, Engadget explained.

A heat shield made using carbon composite coated with ceramic will protect it from the extreme conditions, Nasa says. In seven years, the probe will be within four million miles of the sun's surface. The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield. Although the corona reaches millions of degrees, it's a wispy, tenuous, environment and so the spacecraft won't need to endure such severe temperatures.

Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 deg F (29 deg C). In March, members of the public were invited to be a part in the historic mission by submitting their names to be placed on a memory card that the spacecraft will take into space.

Graphic on the Parker Solar Probe which will become the first spacecraft to fly directly into the sun's atmosphere with a launch window of August 11-23

Today (Aug. 10), accompanied by NASA Science Mission Directorate Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen, project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University, and United Launch Alliance President Tory Bruno, Parker admired the Delta IV Heavy rocket with the probe in its tip.

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload".

The spacecraft will hit 690,000 kph in the corona at closest approach. The 91-year-old scientist will be present to view the launch when the spacecraft takes off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

It's created to take solar punishment like never before, thanks to its revolutionary heat shield that's capable of withstanding 1,370 degrees Celsius.

"We will also be listening for plasma waves that we know flow around when particles move", Fox added.

"With each orbit, we'll be seeing new regions of the sun's atmosphere and learning things about stellar mechanics that we've wanted to explore for decades".

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