Science

NASA launches probe to go deep into Sun's scorching atmosphere

NASA launches probe to go deep into Sun's scorching atmosphere

It is on an unprecedented quest that will take it straight through the edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, just 3.8 million miles from the sun's surface.

Greeting the launch - on the back of a mammoth Delta-IV Heavy rocket - NASA tweeted: "3-2-1... and we have liftoff of Parker #SolarProbe atop @ULAlaunch's #DeltaIV Heavy rocket".

The probe is the first NASA spacecraft with a living namesake.

"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab. Saturday morning's launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI, said: 'The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth'. Liftoff took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the United States early today.

It is travelling on board the Delta-IV Heavy rocket, which will hurl the probe into the inner Solar System.

"We'll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - NY to Tokyo in under a minute!" she told BBC News. Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person. All I can say is: "'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next seven years".




However the technology to make the spacecraft small and light enough to travel at incredible speeds - while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme changes in temperature - are only now possible.

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.

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.

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 heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

"Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. His 1958 paper was initially ridiculed but has come to be central to our understanding of the solar system and beyond.