3Q: A bold mission to touch the sun

3Q: A bold mission to touch the sun

3Q: A bold mission to touch the sun

The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the U.S. 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. While facing brutal heat and radiation, the mission will reveal fundamental science behind what drives the solar wind, the constant outpouring of material from the sun that shapes planetary atmospheres and affects space weather near Earth. While the probe was initially set to launch on Saturday, NASA was prompted to delay it due to technical hurdles.

Liftoff of the United States dollars 1.5 billion mission took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the USA at 3:31 am EDT (1:01 pm Indian Standard Time).

The craft is equipped with a first of it's kind heat shield, and an internal water cooling system that will protect the instruments from the extreme conditions.

Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old retired University of Chicago physicist whom the probe has been named after, said he was excited after watching his first in-person launch.

"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.

The unmanned Parker Solar Probe aims to get closer than any human-made object in history to the center of our solar system. It is hoped the Parker probe will eventually get within 3.83 million miles of the sun, just four per cent of the total distance and closer than ever before.

An artist's depiction of the Parker Solar Probe at work around the sun.

The car-sized observatory is created to endure temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit as it flies within 4 million miles of the sun's surface.

Such automation is needed because sunlight takes eight minutes to reach Earth 93 million miles away.

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With a communication lag time of 16 minutes each way, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun.

The solar wind is a stream of charged particles and magnetic fields that flow continuously from the Sun. The shield's front surface will be able to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft up to 2,500 degree Fahrenheit.

Several other designs on the spacecraft keep Parker Solar Probe sheltered from the heat. It will approach to within 8.86 solar radii from the "surface" of the Sun and will travel at closest approach, as much as 700,000 km/h.

The probe will fly close enough to observe solar winds, assess their speed and study the formation of high-energy solar particles, which are associated with flares that can wreak havoc on Earth.

Parker, who first theorized that solar wind existed 60 years ago, added, "It's a whole new phase, and it's going to be fascinating throughout".

This was the 37 launch of the Delta IV rocket, and the 10 in the Heavy configuration.

NASA launched its Parker Solar Probe on Sunday morning.

Astrophysicist Eugene Parker, centre, stands in front of the rocket carrying the solar probe named after him.

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