Historic Parker Solar Probe Launches This Weekend

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"Well, Parker Solar Probe's going to be in there", said project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University. Watch live in the player above. The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun. That's because Earth is barreling through space at 19 miles per second, or 67,000 miles per hour.

Although much of the Sun's structure is still something of a mystery to us, the PSP is full of possibility.

In all, the spacecraft will make 24 elongated laps around the sun, closer than the orbit of Mercury, the innermost planet. In space terms, that's practically shaking hands.

A heat shield made using carbon composite coated with ceramic will protect it from the extreme conditions, Nasa says.

The spacecraft will trace how energy and heat move through the sun's atmosphere and explore what accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles.

The Parker Solar Probe will ride atop one of the most powerful space rockets we have today, the Delta 4 Heavy.

The probe will hurtle through the sizzling solar atmosphere and come within just 6 million km from the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.

The car-sized spacecraft will be launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral on Saturday at around 3:50 am eastern standard time.

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Understanding how the Sun's atmosphere then flows through the solar system, called space weather, is extremely important because it can have dramatic effects on communications, power and other essential technologies that the U.S. Navy fleet relies on, said Howard.

No human efforts to study our home star _ telescopes that scan the surface, X-ray observations of the corona, spacecraft that pass over the poles _ have fully answered these questions, said Justin Kasper, a space scientist at the University of MI and leader of a particle-sampling instrument suite. Furthermore, some solar particles manage to accrue enough energy in the corona to reach half the speed of light, yet the mechanisms behind this phenomenon are unclear.

These radioactive storms are so powerful they are able to knock out satellites, disrupt services such as communications and Global Positioning System, threaten aircraft and in even interfere with electricity supplies.

All of our data on the corona so far have been remote.

"For scientists like myself, the reward of the long, hard work will be the unique set of measurements returned by Parker", said Szabo.

Parker got to inspect the spacecraft last fall.

Image: The spacecraft will use seven Venus flybys to get nearer the sun.

Stay tuned - Parker is about to take flight.

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