NASA launches Parker Solar Probe rocket to sun

Nasa has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun".

The probe has started its journey to the Sun's fiery corona amidst brutal heat and radiation conditions. "Parker Solar Probe has begun its mission to "touch" the Sun", NASA said in a blog post, about two hours after the lift off.

When will the Parker Solar Probe be launched? Saturday morning's launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.

Do you know what Nasa are up to these days?

"All I have to say is wow, here we go".

Of course, it won't be flying straight into the sun.

It will trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.

With a big assist from Aerojet Rocketdyne, NASA's Parker Solar Probe is now on its way to humankind's closest encounter ever with a star - in this case our solar system's sun.

The spacecraft's path through the corona will allow it to observe the acceleration of the solar wind that makes a critical transition from slower than the speed of sound to faster than it.

It's not like our scientists are no interested in the sun.

Parker Solar Probe carries four instrument suites created to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and capture images of the solar wind.

That is far closer than any man-made object has ever gone before and survived.

Eugene Parker was an astronomer at the University of Chicago in the 1950s.

This small instrument looking around the heat shield is a Faraday cup, and is a direct descendant of the first instrument to measure the existence of the supersonic solar wind expansion.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn't about to let it take off without him. Parker compared the phenomenon to the way water spray in a fountain. Parker's first paper was rejected, but it was saved by a colleague, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, an astrophysicist who would be awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Physics. Most astronomers at that time thought of outer space as perfectly empty and bare, and the notion of solar wind sweeping particles through space didn't make sense to many people.

Parker said he's particularly interested in learning more about the heating that occurs during explosive solar flares and storms.

Once on its way, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft.

A plaque dedicating the mission to Parker was attached to the spacecraft in May.

The sun is 93 million miles from Earth. This will enable the craft to collect data about the corona, which is usually not visible because of the bright light of the sun's disk. "Parker will also be hot - parts of the spacecraft will reach around 3000 degrees Fahrenheit (1649 degrees Celsius)!"

The Delta-IV Heavy rocket - which was carrying the probe - launched at 03:31 local time (07:31 GMT).

You can see updates about the rocket, and find more information about its specifications, here.

Zooming through space in a highly elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds of up to 700,000 kms per hour, setting the record for the fastest spacecraft in history.

The Parker will make 24 orbits of the sun over nearly seven years, using Venus to help slow down and reduce its orbital distance to the sun. The mission will rely on measurements and imaging to revolutionise our understanding of the corona and how processes there ultimately affect near-Earth space.

"This mission truly marks the humanity's first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe", Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

  • Joey Payne