NASA spacecraft to visit the sun to offer closest view

NASA launch Parker Solar Probe rocket

NASA launch Parker Solar Probe rocket

"By understanding exactly how these particles are accelerated we will be able to predict with more reliability when these storms are occurring and how intense they will be", said Mihir Desai, Southwest Research scientist and co-investigator on the Parker Solar Probe. "It's very important for us to be able to predict the weather in the same simple way we predict the weather on Earth", explains Alex Young, a NASA scientist.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe will get almost seven times closer to the sun than previous spacecraft.

Thomas Zurbuchen, from NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said: "By studying our star, we can learn not only more about the Sun".

The £1.2billion Solar Probe Plus expedition will dip inside the sun's atmosphere and have to survive unimaginable levels of radiation and temperatures of 1,400°C as it "touches the Sun" after a mind-boggling four million mile journey. Mission leaders say this may sound extremely impressive, but it's really particularly unsafe, given the conditions prevailing in that place, so there's a huge chance that $ 1.5 billion will be thrown into the ring.

Flying into the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, for the first time, Parker Solar Probe will employ a combination of in situ measurements and imaging to revolutionize our understanding of the corona and expand our knowledge of the origin and evolution of the solar wind.

This means the probe will be in the sun's atmosphere, a place where conditions can get pretty hot and harsh.

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Temperatures in the corona are up to 500,000 degrees celsius and, for an unknown reason, far exceeds the heat of the sun's core.

Speeding by at a pace of 430,000 miles per hour will make it "the fastest human-made object", said project scientist Nicky Fox of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

"As we go from the surface of the Sun, which is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and move up into the corona, we find ourselves quickly at millions of degrees", he said. Parker also described the problem of the heating of the corona. The probe will have a 4.5 inch thick carbon composite shield, as well as a cooling system keeping instruments at room temperature while engulfed in temperatures reaching 2,500 degrees fahrenheit. A series of instruments on board the spacecraft will measure the magnetic and electric fields, plasma waves and high energy particles.

There is also a white light imager, taking pictures of what the spacecraft is about to "plough through", said Fox.

A 45-minute launch window opens on Saturday at 3:48 am (0748 GMT).

The car-sized probe is already packed on to the Delta IV-Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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