How PIO physicist laid foundation for NASA's mission to 'touch' the Sun

How PIO physicist laid foundation for NASA's mission to 'touch' the Sun

The first pass 15 million miles from the sun's surface will already be the closest by any spacecraft, a distance that will close to within 3.8 million miles by the closest approaches through the sun's super-heated outer atmosphere, or corona.

Zooming through space in a highly elliptical orbit, the Parker Solar Probe will reach speeds of up to 430,000 miles (690,000 km) per hour, fast enough to get from Washington to Beijing in less than one minute.

And Nasa's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen, said: "I'm in awe". Eastern on Sunday after an initial launch attempt on Saturday was scrubbed because of a last-minute technical glitch.

One of those watching the historic moment was Dr Eugene Parker, the now 91-year-old scientist who first suggested the possibility of solar winds in 1958 and who the craft is named after.

"Until you actually go there and touch the sun, you really can't answer these questions", said Project Scientist Nicola Fox.

This image made available by NASA shows an artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun.

The corona, visible from Earth during last year's total solar eclipse as a fiery glow around the sun with wispy bands stretching outward, is far hotter than the roiling surface below it.

The Parker Solar Probe launch was delayed several times already, but needed to launch by August 19 to line up flyby of Venus, which will act as a slingshot to get PSP into the right trajectory away from Earth toward the sun, for its seven-year mission, orbiting the sun seven times.

The mission's findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids.

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

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"We at NASA and the Launch Services Program are thrilled to be part of this mission".

While the Sun-facing side simmers at about 1,400 degrees Celsius, behind the shield the spacecraft will be 30 degrees Celsius.

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.

Its maximum velocity around the sun will reach 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object to orbit a celestial body.

"It's an instrument that measures the particles flowing from the sun, that we call the solar wind", explains Case.

Here is what you need to know about the Parker Solar Probe. "If the Parker Solar Probe can reach below the Alfvén point, then we can say the spacecraft has entered the solar atmosphere and touched the Sun".

For more than 60 years, scientist have wondered how energy and heat move through the solar corona and what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.

It was launched on a Delta IV Heavy rocket.

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

Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall.

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