NASA’s Parker spacecraft rockets toward sun for closest look yet

NASA’s Parker spacecraft rockets toward sun for closest look yet

NASA's Parker Solar Probe launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., August 12, 2018.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe, mankind's first mission to "touch" the Sun, has been launched today on a seven-year long journey to unlock the mysteries of our star's fiery outer atmosphere and its effects on space weather. This followed earlier trouble in the countdown.

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

The delicate instrument comes equipped with an array of instruments and tools which will scan the Sun for solar winds and magnetic fields.

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.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood. It has been outfitted with a heat shield created to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass.

If all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dr Nicky Fox of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said: "I realise that might not sound that close, but imagine the Sun and the Earth were a metre apart".

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It will make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

"We are ready. We have the ideal payload".

Among them was 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named, who proposed the existence of solar wind 60 years ago. "We know the questions we want to answer".

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

The spacecraft, which will plunge into the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield.

"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".

"And last but not least, we have a white light imager that is taking images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun".