Unmanned NASA craft takes off on mission towards Sun

Christopher Davidson
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.

The $1.5 billion craft will travel towards the centre of our solar system on a mission to discover more about risky solar storms.

As the Parker Solar Probe probe orbits the sun, it will experience extreme radiation and temperatures as high as 1,377C - close to the melting point of steel.

In particular, it is hoped to give scientists a greater understanding of solar wind storms that have the potential to knock out the power on Earth.

The launch of the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the spacecraft was scrubbed yesterday due to a violation of a launch limit, resulting in a hold.

A worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade to fully recover from, experts have warned.

Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona
NASA Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona

He said: "Wow, here we go! Parker Solar Probe would be just 4cm away from the Sun", explained Dr Nicky Fox, the British-born project scientist who is affiliated to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. "We know the questions we want to answer".

The spacecraft has been named after 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who was one of the many spectators who arrived at the launch site to watch the historic moment.

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

Protected by a revolutionary new heat shield, the spacecraft will fly past Venus in October, setting up its first solar encounter in November.

Tools on board will measure high-energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun.

"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!" she told BBC News.

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