NASA launched a new probe to study the Sun

Audrey Hill
August 16, 2018

NASA has launched Parker Solar Probe, the United States space agency's historic small car-sized probe, on its seven-year space odyssey that will take it gradually closer to the Sun at 3.8 million miles.

While the spacecraft itself is quite small - only about the size of a auto - it received a big boost into space thanks to United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. It is set to fly into the Sun's corona within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) of the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft. "Whenever you're there, you take a breather and then you start working".

"Now, Parker Solar Probe is operating normally and on its way to begin a seven-year mission of extreme science", said Driesman. Less than 2 minutes before its planned liftoff on Saturday (Aug. 11), a helium pressure alarm went off on the Delta IV Heavy, thwarting the day's launch attempt. It's the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher.

The third stage is built to carry the agency's Parker Solar Probe in its intended orbit as part f a mission to study the effect of the sun's changing conditions on the solar system, Northrop said Sunday.

Parker will be subject to temperatures in excess of 1,371 degrees Celsius, but if the heat shield does as intended, this will feel closer to 29C for the important instruments aboard the probe.

One key to the mission's success is a 4.5-inch thick carbon shield to protect the probe's scientific instruments. These will help determine the structure and dynamics of the magnetic fields at the sources of solar wind, trace the flow of energy that heats the corona and accelerates the solar wind, and determine what mechanisms accelerate and transport energetic particles.

Scientists hope this close encounter will give them a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

Star Trek’s William Shatner on behalf of NASA inviting people to send their names
Star Trek’s William Shatner on behalf of NASA inviting people to send their names

"All I can say is, 'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next several years", said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named. "That lovely atmosphere that we saw during the total solar eclipse past year is about 300 times hotter than the surface of the sun, and that just doesn't make any sense".

The goal of this NASA launch is to get closer to coronal mass ejections and solar winds.

The Parker Solar Probe had successfully reached space and phoned home.

"I'm just so glad to be here with him", said NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen.

By the time the probe gets to its 22nd, 23rd and 24th orbits of the sun in 2024 and 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record-breaking 430,000 miles per hour.

Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral, and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person. The sun's corona itself has remained a mystery for scientists as temperatures run far hotter here than at the suns surface which shouldn't make sense.

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Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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