NASA blasts off historic probe to ‘touch Sun’

14 August, 2018, 23:11 | Author: Priscilla Morrison
  • Parker Solar Probe

A last-minute technical problem delayed the rocket's planned Saturday launch, with the countdown halted with just one minute, 55 seconds remaining.

Earlier, the launch date was scheduled on 11 August 2018, at 3:33 a.m. EDT from Launch Complex 37, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. However, a 4.5 inch carbon composite shield will face the sun, keeping the instruments cool at around 30 degrees C.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", said project scientist Nicky Fox of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, which designed the probe and manages the mission.

It aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the centre of our solar system.

One of the reasons that scientists are sending the probe is to study the Sun's atmosphere and the weird property it exhibits of being hotter than the surface of the sun itself.

Embarking on a mission that scientists have been dreaming of since the Sputnik era, a Nasa spacecraft hurtled Sunday toward the sun on a quest to unlock some of its mysteries by getting closer than any object sent before. That probably sounds like a bad idea, blasting something into the sun, the ideal sphere of unfathomably hot plasma at the centre of our solar system.

"The spacecraft is power positive and that's where we want to be", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate.

At a press conference last week, Parker said of his namesake mission: "I expect to find some surprises".




The sun is 93 million miles from Earth.

At that point, the Probe will be moving at 430,000 miles per hour, and will become the fastest-moving object ever made by humans. FIELDS will measure electric and magnetic waves around the probe, WISPR will take images, SWEAP will count charged particles and measure their properties, and ISOIS will measure the particles across a wide spectrum. NASA is bragging that the craft, known as the Parker Probe, will actually "touch the sun".

For more than 60 years, scientist have wondered how energy and heat move through the solar corona and what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.

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

The University of Chicago professor said he had been biting his nails in anticipation.

"At this point, spacecraft is up and happy", said a spokesman with United Launch Alliance, the company that operates the rocket. Among its many purposes the Parker Solar Probe will try to answer two key questions surrounding the Sun. It will approach to within 8.86 solar radii from the "surface" of the Sun and will travel at closest approach, as much as 700,000 km/h.

WEB EXTRA: Hear an extended conversation between Harvard Smithsonian astrophysicist Tony Case and KLCC's Brian Bull about the Parker Solar Probe mission, his team's contribution to the project, and how he observed the 20th anniversary of the Thurston School Shooting.

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