NASA launches Parker Solar Probe, journey to explore the sun begins

Parker Solar Probe

NASA's Parker Solar Probe launched this morning

A NASA spacecraft has taken off on an historic mission towards the Sun in a delayed launch at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

On board the Delta IV Heavy rocket is the Parker Solar Probe on its first mission to the sun.

The probe will dip inside this tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions, and getting to just 6.16 million km (3.83 million miles) from the Sun's broiling "surface".

The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the United States 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.

The spellbinding footage shows Parker's engines ignite propelling the probe towards the sun to start its seven-year-long mission to explore the Sun. But if the mission goes as planned, the probe's discoveries will serve as a lasting legacy to Eugene Parker, the only living person to have a NASA spacecraft named after him.

Scientists aim to learn more about the mechanisms that power the solar wind of charged particles the sun sends into the solar system, creating aurorae on Earth and sometimes screwing with our tech.

Nasa has launched a probe that will head closer to the sun than any other spacecraft before it.

NASA said the mission to "touch the Sun" will provide scientists with vital new information about our solar system and beyond.

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"The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun", the $1.5 billion mission's project scientist, Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory, told reporters in advance of today's launch.

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.

It is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone still alive. All I can say is: "'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next seven years". That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.

The probe will zip past Venus in six weeks and make a first rendezvous with the Sun a further six weeks after that. 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?

It is said to endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times greater than that experienced on Earth.

"Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said.

"Just waiting for the data now", he said.

But then, the launch of NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 - becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter - proved them wrong.

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