Lift-Off! NASA Launches Parker Solar Probe To 'Touch The Sun'

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The Parker solar probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small auto, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, embarking on a seven-year mission which will see it flying into the sun's corona - the outermost part of its atmosphere - within 3.8m miles (6.1 m km) of its surface.

NASA will, on Sunday have another go at launching their historic unmanned Parker Solar Probe.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's mysterious atmosphere, known as the corona, coming within 6.16 million kilometers of its surface during a seven-year mission.

Saturday morning's launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

A revolutionary carbon heat shield will protect it, while the tried-but-true practice of using water inside the craft to cool it down is also being utilised.

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The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the USA is set to study the "solar winds" proposed in the paper by Dr Eugene Newman Parker, who has now become the first living scientist to have mission named after him.

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.

Among them was 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named, who proposed the existence of solar wind 60 years ago.

NASA on Sunday launched its ambitious Parker Solar Probe a day later than it was scheduled to after multiple checks exhausted the launch window. It is the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done awesome things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN.

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It will fly straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, that were visible during last August's total solar eclipse. All I can say is wow, here we go. "We're in for some learning here over the next several years". NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe - the size of a small vehicle and well under a ton - racing toward the sun.

It took one of the most powerful rockets in the world to get the mission moving - not because the probe is large or heavy, but because of the speed required to cruise through the solar system. Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun's atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker accurately predicted in 1958?

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

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth.

"Just waiting for the data now", he said. As you might guess, NASA is relying on automation to make this work.

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