Wednesday, 19 September, 2018

NASA just launched a historic mission to touch the sun

Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar
Sandy Nunez | 15 August, 2018, 23:03

Then, without notice, the clock stopped, signaling a hiccup in the historic launch at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., of the Parker Solar Probe, which, if all goes well, will get closer to the sun than anything sent before. The Launch took place in the early morning at 3:31 a.m. EDT from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. U-I physicist Jasper Halekas, a co-investigator on the Parker Solar Probe, says his main experiment is focused on what's known as the solar wind.

The sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, can have temperatures up to 2 to 3 million degrees.

But Sunday's bid "went off like clockwork", said NASA launch manager Omar Baez.

NASA's three-stage United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carried the 635 kg-spacecraft which is almost the size of a small vehicle.

"This mission truly marks the humanity's first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. The probe, an unmanned machine about the size of a small vehicle, will pass the sun 24 times over the next seven years, moving up to 430,000 miles per hour. Physicist Eugene Parker correctly predicted the presence of solar winds almost five decades ago.

Onboard the Parker Solar Probe is a suite of instruments created to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, as well as capture images of the solar wind.

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The project, with a $1.5 billion price tag, is the first major mission under NASA's Living With a Star program.

The landmark mission will allow scientists to make observations the likes of which have never been available to us, and as a space enthusiast and big-time appreciator of the Sun's life giving gig, I made a decision to tag along - or at least, my name did.

Speechless is not a word typically used to describe Nicky Fox, mission scientist for the Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, a retired University of Chicago professor. Hence, with nationalism trending and protectionism on the rise, the Parker probe shows that we can only reach the stars if we all work together. What is the secret of the scorching corona, which is more than 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, thousands of miles below? "Congratulations to our team and mission partners, we are proud to launch this exceptional spacecraft that will provide invaluable scientific information benefiting all of humankind".

The spacecraft will hurtle around the Sun at speeds up to 430 000 miles per hour - 15-times faster than a speeding bullet.

While the Parker Solar Probe will travel through a space with temperatures of several million degrees, the surface of the heat shield that faces the Sun will only get heated to about 1,400 degree Celsius.