The Parker solar probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small car, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, embarking on a seven-year mission during which it will fly into the sun's corona – the outermost part of its atmosphere – within 3.8m miles (6.1m km) of its surface.
Scientists are aiming to collect data about the inner workings of the highly magnetised corona, to better understand the causes of solar wind.
The launch had been delayed by a last-minute technical problem on Saturday
Nasa's Parker probe sets off on quest for closeup view of the sun
The Parker solar probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, which was visible during last August’s total solar eclipse. It eventually will get within 3.8m miles (6.1m km) of the sun’s surface, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, allowing scientists to explore the sun in a way never before possible.
“Fly baby girl, fly!” the project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before liftoff. She urged it to “go touch the sun”.
Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October. That will set up the first solar encounter in November. Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5bn (£1.2bn) project.
For the second day in succession, thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns. A had been foiled by last-minute technical trouble.
Among the crowd was the 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker, after whom the spacecraft is named. He proposed the existence of solar wind – a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun – 60 years ago.
It is the first time Nasa has named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker was not about to let it take off without him being there.
Courtesy: The Guardian