NASA spacecraft blasts off toward sun for closest look yet

The mission costs £1.17billion

The mission costs £1.17billion

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

In particular, it is hoped to give scientists a greater understanding of solar wind storms that have the potential to knock out the power on Earth.

The probe's destination is the sun's corona, which it will fly through over two dozen times, eventually coming within less than 4 million miles (6.4 million kilometers) of our star's surface.

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent to up to about 500 times the Sun's radiation on Earth. The visible surface of the sun has a temperature of about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

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.

Dr Nicky Fox of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said: "I realise that might not sound that close, but imagine the Sun and the Earth were a metre apart".

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

These poorly understood solar outbursts could potentially wipe out power to millions of people.

"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.

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"It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind", Parker said earlier this week.

Protected by a revolutionary new heat shield, the spacecraft will fly past Venus in October, setting up its first solar encounter in November.

"We are ready. We have the flawless payload".

To reach its target, the Delta 4 Heavy and a solid-propellant upper stage had to supply enough energy to counteract Earth's 18-mile-per-second orbital velocity around the sun, allowing the spacecraft to fall into the inner solar system. "We know the questions we want to answer".

NASA launched its Parker Solar Probe on Sunday morning.

Thousands of spectators jammed the launch site, including 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker for whom the spacecraft is named.

Parker said he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine". 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. By the time Parker gets to its 22nd orbit of the sun, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record-breaking 430,000 miles per hour.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel at some 430,000 miles per hours - the fastest ever human-made object, fast enough to travel from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

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