Nasa spacecraft heads to sun for closest look yet

Parker Solar Probe launch

Scientists say that data should help them better understand the Sun's workings by tracing the flow of its energy, studying the solar corona and exploring the acceleration of solar wind.

The mission is named for Eugene Parker, the physicist who first theorized the existence of the solar wind in 1958.

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. "All the configurations are already over, we are now in the process of assembling the engineering model prototype and then the testing stage will begin", Banerjee, who is part of the Aditya L1 mission, said. "Parker Solar Probe has begun its mission to "touch" the Sun", NASA said in a blog post, about two hours after the lift off.

PSP is carrying four instrument suites created to study the sun's magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

- This is one hot flight: The first NASA mission to "touch" our sun is underway after a dramatic early morning launch.

The car-sized probe will give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid. The next step after that will be to complete its very first solar swoop in November.

The Delta-IV Heavy rocket - which was carrying the probe - launched at 03:31 local time (07:31 GMT). He exclaimed: "Wow, here we go!"

The spacecraft will travel through material with temperatures greater than several million degrees Celsius while being bombarded with intense sunlight.

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"Fly baby girl, fly!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University said in a tweet right before liftoff.

The sun is 93 million miles from Earth. The Parker Solar Probe is NASA's first ever named after a living person.

Also, the spacecraft is created to autonomously keep itself safe and on track to the Sun as several sensors are attached to its body along the edge of the shadow from the heat shield. With each orbit, it will be propelled closer and closer to the sun, ultimately circling the star at at a distance that is less than 10 radii of the sun.

Now, with the help of cutting-edge thermal technology that can protect the mission on its risky journey, the spacecraft's four instrument suites will study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

It has taken nearly 60 years to make the mission a reality.

The Parker Solar Probe during final pre-launch processing, its white heat shield visible at the top.

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe - it's ours, after all - and so this is one of NASA's big-time strategic missions. A special component of SWEAP is a small instrument that will look around the protective heat shield of the spacecraft directly at the sun, the only instrument on the spacecraft to do so.

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