NASA launches historic probe to 'touch Sun'

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The Parker solar probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small auto, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, embarking on a seven-year mission which will see it flying into the sun's corona - the outermost part of its atmosphere - within 3.8m miles (6.1 m km) of its surface.

Liftoff took place from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in the USA early on Sunday.

In reality, it should come within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun's surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of the solar wind and the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, which is 300 times hotter than its surface.

A Saturday launch attempt was delayed due to a technical glitch.

NASA on Sunday blasted off a $1.5 billion spacecraft toward the Sun on a historic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of unsafe solar storms. That will set up the first solar encounter in November.

The probe will make its closest approach in 2024 when the next total solar eclipse is expected to be seen over the USA, and with that, the spacecraft will be visible.

Parker Solar Probe would be just 4cm away from the Sun.

NASA said the mission to "touch the Sun" will provide scientists with vital new information about our solar system and beyond.

"Go, baby, go!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University shouted at liftoff.

Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona
NASA Nasa's Parker Solar Probe is humanity's first-ever mission into a part of the Suns atmosphere called the corona

It will fly straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, that were visible during last August's total solar eclipse.

The probe is NASA's first to be named after a living person.

Speaking after the launch, the 91-year-old told NASA TV: "It's a whole new phase and it's going to be fascinating throughout". Seven Venus flybys are planned over the seven-year mission to fine-tune the trajectory, setting up the close-in aim points.

The probe will reach tremendous speeds as it orbits the sun.

Zurbuchen considers the sun the most important star in our universe - it's ours, after all - and so this is one of NASA's big-time strategic missions.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid. "Even I still go, really?"

A mission to get close up and personal with our star has been on NASA's books since 1958.

The spacecraft's heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures.

It is said to endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times greater than that experienced on Earth. As you might guess, NASA is relying on automation to make this work.

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