Parker Solar Probe Mission Launches to Touch the Sun

Parker Solar Probe

Gathering information about fundamental processes near the Sun can help improve our understanding of how our solar system's star changes the space environment, where space weather can affect astronauts, interfere with satellite orbits, or damage spacecraft electronics.

A Delta-IV heavy rocket carrying the probe took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at around 07.31 GMT on Sunday morning.

The spacecraft, which will plunge into the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield.

The car-sized probe 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.

The probe's destination is the sun's corona, which it will fly through over two dozen times, eventually coming within less than 4 million miles (6.4 million kilometers) of our star's surface.

In particular, it is hoped to give scientists a greater understanding of solar wind storms that have the potential to knock out the power on Earth.

The mission will be the first to fly directly through the Sun's corona - the hazardous region of intense heat and solar radiation in the Sun's atmosphere that is visible during an eclipse.

Parker Solar Probe launch delayed until Sunday
The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission. EDT (13:03 IST) from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Saturday.

"Parker Solar Probe would be just 4cm away from the Sun", explained Dr Nicky Fox, the British-born project scientist who is affiliated to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

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

The spacecraft is named after 91-year old solar physicist Eugene Parker, 91, who was the first scientist to describe solar wind in 1958.

NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said on Saturday that Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community", and called the probe one of NASA most "strategically important" missions.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

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