Published: Tue, August 14, 2018
Research | By Wilma Wheeler

NASA Launches Parker Solar Probe Spacecraft (Watch Video)

NASA Launches Parker Solar Probe Spacecraft (Watch Video)

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.

Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour - fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in a second - setting the record for the fastest spacecraft in history.

And Nasa's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, said: "I'm in awe". While the probe was initially set to launch on Saturday, NASA was prompted to delay it due to technical hurdles.

Physicist Eugene Parker watches the launch of the spacecraft that bears his name - NASA's Parker Solar Probe - early in the morning of August 12, 2018.

"Tested to withstand up to 1,650 degrees Celsius, the TPS can handle any heat the Sun can send its way, keeping nearly all instrumentation safe", said NASA.

"Until you actually go there and touch the sun, you really can't answer these questions", said Project Scientist Nicola Fox.

Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA's Living with a Star program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. What drives the supersonic solar wind - the constant stream of solar material that blows through the entire solar system? These findings, in turn, could serve a practical objective by helping space agencies anticipate and protect against solar flares that can disrupt satellites and electrical grids on Earth.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun".

"All I have to say is wow, here we go". Parker Solar Probe and its instruments will be protected from the Sun's heat by a 4.5-inch-thick, carbon-carbon composite heat shield.

The sun is 93 million miles from Earth.

It was launched on a Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Moreover, the spacecraft holds a microchip carrying the names of more than 1.1 million participants who signed up to send their name to the Sun.

Once on its way, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft. FIELDS will measure electric and magnetic waves around the probe, WISPR will take images, SWEAP will count charged particles and measure their properties, and ISOIS will measure the particles across a wide spectrum.

Nasa has launched a satellite that will fly closer to the sun than any of its predecessors.

The probe will fly close enough to observe solar winds, assess their speed and study the formation of high-energy solar particles, which are associated with flares that can wreak havoc on Earth.

Parker published research predicting the existence of solar wind in 1958, when he was a young professor at the University of Chicago's Enrico Fermi institute.

"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week. Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points. He's now 91 and eager to see the solar probe soar.

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