Early sunrise: Mission to 'touch' the sun blasts off from Florida


NASA rocket Delta IV launched the Parker Solar Probe out into space to begin its historic journey to the sun.

Scientists hope to shed light on the workings of our closest star - including the dynamics of the solar wind of electrically charged particles, and the reason why the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, is hundreds of times hotter than the sun's surface.

After being delayed on Saturday, the probe was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, one of the world's most powerful rockets.

The craft will be protected from the heat of the sun by a revolutionary new heat shield. But that was her reaction in the wee hours today (Aug. 12) as she watched NASA's Parker Solar Probe launch on an unprecedented mission to the sun.

The unmanned spacecraft's mission is to get closer than any human-made object ever to the center of our solar system, plunging into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission.

Looking on at launch was Eugene Parker, the University of Chicago astrophysicist who first theorized the existence of the solar wind in 1958.

"In 10 to 20 years, a carbon disk will be floating around the sun in orbit, and it will be around until the end of the solar system", CNN quoted Andy Driesman, Parker Solar Probe project manager at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, as saying.

With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun. "The spacecraft will hurtle around the Sun at speeds up to 430,000 miles per hour".

During the journey, the spacecraft will fly by Venus at speeds of 4,30,000 miles per hour, the equivalent of flying from NY to Tokyo in one minute. It is the first NASA mission to be named for a living researcher. The cup will glow red when the probe makes its closest approach to the sun, sampling the solar wind and effectively touching the sun.

USA space agency Nasa has launched its mission to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any before.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth", said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI.

A worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade to fully recover from, experts have warned.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things, which I don't know yet, (that) will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said in a NASA interview.

I guess we'll have to wait and see what they come back with.

It is said the data gathered by the car-sized probe will "revolutionise" our understanding of the star, which has a huge impact on Earth.