Solar so good...new probe heads for sun

Parker Solar Probe

The Parker Solar Probe is the first mission of its kind

In the early hours of Sunday morning, a NASA rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe was successfully launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - marking the beginning of a seven-year mission that aims to get the probe closer to the sun than any human-made object has gone before.

Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking. 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 probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 6.16 million kilometers of its surface during a seven-year mission. "We know the questions we want to answer".

The sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

"The unique requirements of this mission made the Delta IV Heavy the flawless launch vehicle to deliver Parker Solar Probe into orbit with the highest precision", said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs.

The Parker Probe is named after Dr. Eugene Parker, the astrophysicist given credit behind the solar wind theory in the late 1950's.

Zurbuchen also described the probe as one of NASA's most "strategically important" missions.

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At those speeds, the spacecraft will reach the sun by November, and scientists hope to have early data back from the probe by the end of the year.

The Parker Solar Probe is a satellite about the size of the auto, and it is even set to become the fastest moving manmade object history as it fires towards the sun, breaking the record previously set by Pedro Obiang's absolute banger against Spurs last season. That's further away than Parker but it will still need an impressive shield. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles, easily beating the current record of 27 million miles set by NASA's Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

"Wow, here we go". The Living with a Star program is managed by the agency's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Facing brutal heat and radiation, the spacecraft will fly close enough to watch the solar wind speed up from subsonic to supersonic, and fly through the birthplace of the highest-energy solar particles.

"We are going to be in an area that is so exciting, where solar wind - we believe - will be accelerating", said NASA planetary science division director Jim Green.

"The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun", said project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University.

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but it was only in recent years that the heat shield technology advanced enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments. It could be due to interactions between electrically charged particles and the sun's powerful magnetic field, or it could be the result of countless "nanoflares" governed by another mechanism.

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