How to Watch the Parker Solar Probe Launch

NASA: Parker Solar Probe launches on mission to 'touch the sun' | Daily Star

With a gravity boost from the sun, the Parker will attain a top speed of 430,000 mph - about 120 miles a second - at its closest approach of only 3.8 million miles, becoming the fastest human-made object to hurtle through the solar system.

NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, was thrilled not only with the launch, but Parker's presence.

The spacecraft, launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on August 12, will transmit its first scientific observations in December.

"We're in for some learning for the next several years", said Eugene Parker, 91, the retired solar physicist after whom the spacecraft is named.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done fantastic things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN.

To "touch" the sun, the spacecraft will make a swing by Venus to shed some of its sideways momentum, allowing it to take a more straight shot toward the center of the solar system.

The probe aims to dip directly into our star's outer atmosphere, or corona. Parker Solar Probe will make its journey all the way to the Sun's atmosphere, or corona - closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history. It could also improve predictions of so-called space weather, which can damage satellites, endanger astronauts and disrupt power grids on Earth.

The unmanned spacecraft will zip past Venus in six weeks and make a first rendezvous with the Sun, the star closest to the Earth, a further six weeks after that.

When closest to the sun, the 4½-inch-thick carbon-composite solar shields will have to withstand temperatures close to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Eventually Parker will dip down to just 3.8 million miles from the sun's surface.

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.

Parker Solar Probe will set its sights on the corona to solve long-standing, foundational mysteries of Sun, the US-based space agency said.

But the Parker Solar Probe features multiple technologies to cope with the heat threat. It could be due to interactions between electrically charged particles and the sun's powerful magnetic field, or it could be the result of countless "nanoflares" governed by another mechanism. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe - the size of a small vehicle and well under a ton - racing toward the sun.

Parker published research predicting the existence of solar wind in 1958, when he was a young professor at the University of Chicago's Enrico Fermi institute.

The probe was borne into the heavens atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.

WEB EXTRA: Hear an extended conversation between Harvard Smithsonian astrophysicist Tony Case and KLCC's Brian Bull about the Parker Solar Probe mission, his team's contribution to the project, and how he observed the 20th anniversary of the Thurston School Shooting. That may sound like a lot of distance, but the corona of the sun is hotter than the surface of the sun itself; its temperature is measured in the millions of degrees.

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