NASA launches probe to go deep into Sun's scorching atmosphere

NASA launches probe to go deep into Sun's scorching atmosphere

It was Parker who accurately theorized 60 years ago the existence of solar wind - the supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun and coursing through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical systems on Earth.

It is set to fly into the Sun's corona within 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) of the solar surface, seven times closer than any other spacecraft.

The extreme pull of the sun's gravity will then accelerate the probe up to insane speeds of as much as 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 km/h) as it grazes the edge of the most powerful object in our corner of the galaxy.

Image: The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.

Scientists expect the $1.5-billion mission to shed light not only on our own dynamic sun, but the billions of other yellow dwarf stars - and other types of stars - out there in the Milky Way and beyond.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn't about to let it take off without him.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done unbelievable things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN.

A last-minute technical problem delayed NASA's unprecedented flight to the sun.

The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the USA is set to study the "solar winds" proposed in the paper by Dr Eugene Newman Parker, who has now become the first living scientist to have mission named after him.

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"To me, it's still mind-blowing", she said.

It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago.

NASA on Sunday launched a $1.5 billion spacecraft toward the Sun on a historic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of risky solar storms.

"Now I have to turn from really biting my nails to thinking about the interesting things [to come] that I don't know yet, which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five, six, or seven years", he said. All I can say is wow, here we go.

"What's so cool about all of this is hanging out with Parker and seeing his emotion", Zurbuchen said, adding that Parker went from being excited about the launch to being excited about the science to come.

Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall. The spacecraft will also be prepared for the first of seven planned Venus flybys scheduled for October 2.

"We are thrilled with the launch and humbled to have been entrusted with this mission", Tory Bruno, ULA's President and CEO told Space.com following the launch. With a communication lag time of 16 minutes, the spacecraft must fend for itself at the sun.

"Chandra, as he was popularly known, is another astrophysicist with his name tagged to a space mission, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory", Nandi said.

"The sky was waiting for us, Venus was waiting for us, and it was just an wonderful sight to see". His 1958 paper was initially ridiculed but has come to be central to our understanding of the solar system and beyond.

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