NASA launches historic mission to 'touch sun'

NASA launches historic mission to 'touch sun'

NASA rocket Delta IV launched the Parker Solar Probe out into space to begin its historic journey to the sun.

Nasa's most powerful rocket, which is carrying the satellite, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission.

Through this mission, NASA is hoping to solve decades-old mysteries around what accelerates the solar winds that affect Earth and other planets.

In an unprecedented quest, the Parker Solar Probe will fly within 3.8 million miles of the sun's surface.

These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.

Protected by a revolutionary new heat shield, the spacecraft will fly past Venus in October.

"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.

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That's around 4 per cent of the distance between the earth and the sun.

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described in 1958.

In this Thursday, August 9, 2018, astrophysicist Eugene Parker attends a news conference about the Parker Solar Probe named after him, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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.

NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said on Saturday that Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community", and called the probe one of NASA most "strategically important" missions.

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments, according to Fox.

During its historic journey, the probe will jet past Venus at speeds of 430,000 miles per hour, the equivalent of flying from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

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