Friday, 14 December, 2018

Nasa spacecraft heads to sun for closest look yet

Parker Solar Probe NASA's Parker Solar Probe launched this morning
Kenny Thornton | 12 August, 2018, 17:56

This handout photo released by NASA shows the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket with the Parker Solar Probe onboard shortly after the Mobile Service Tower was rolled back on August 11, 2018, Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida - NASA postponed until August 12, 2018, the launch of the first ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun on a mission to plunge into our star's sizzling atmosphere and unlock its mysteries.

The Parker Solar Probe rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The launch was originally set for Saturday morning, but was scrubbed at the last minute due to technical glitches.

The Parker Solar Probe is completely dependent on its directional heat shield for survival.

Unlike many planetary exploration missions, which primarily orbit the planet itself, the Parker probe will be swooping closer and closer to the sun by way of an elliptical orbit that will include seven "gravity-assist" flybys of Venus.

Thousands of spectators jammed the launch site, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker after whom the spacecraft is named.

It's been 60 years since Parker came up with the theory behind the solar wind and the strong outbursts that can cripple communications and electric grids on Earth.

NASA on Sunday launched its ambitious Parker Solar Probe a day later than it was scheduled to after multiple checks exhausted the launch window.

NASA said the mission to "touch the Sun" will provide scientists with vital new information about our solar system and beyond.

What you need to know about the Perseid meteor shower
And although 2016's outburst saw eager watchers spotting up to 300 shooting stars an hour, 2018 is set to be a landmark year. However, many more photographs will come this weekend when the Perseid meteor shower peaks.

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

Parker Solar Probe will explore the corona, a region of the Sun only seen from Earth when the Moon blocks out the Sun's bright face during total solar eclipses.

However the technology to make the spacecraft small and light enough to travel at incredible speeds - while surviving the sun's punishing environment and the extreme changes in temperature - are only now possible. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.

The probe is the first NASA spacecraft with a living namesake. All I can say is wow, here we go.

The spacecraft's heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures.

The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth.

The mission, that costs about $ 1.5 bn has been over five decades in the making, and is unique for bringing a space probe closer to the sun than any man made object.

"Just waiting for the data now", he said.

"I'll bet you 10 bucks it works", Parker said.

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