Nasa launches historic space probe in mission to 'touch' the sun

Parker Solar Probe

Parker Solar Probe

A Delta-IV heavy rocket carrying the probe took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida at around 07.31 GMT on Sunday morning. The USD 1.5 billion mission will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona.

As the Parker Solar Probe probe orbits the sun, it will experience extreme radiation and temperatures as high as 1,377C - close to the melting point of steel.

The probe will dip inside this tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions, and getting to just 6.16 million km (3.83 million miles) from the Sun's broiling "surface".

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.

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

He said: "Wow, here we go!"

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

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It is travelling on board the Delta-IV Heavy rocket, which will hurl the probe into the inner Solar System.

Dr Nicky Fox, the British-born project scientist affiliated to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, explained to the BBC just how close the probe would get to to the sun.

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

The spacecraft has been named after 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who was one of the many spectators who arrived at the launch site to watch the historic moment.

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments.

During its historic journey, the probe will jet past Venus at speeds of 430,000 miles per hour, the equivalent of flying from NY to Tokyo in one minute.

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