Here comes the Sun - at 700000km an hour

The Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to our star during the seven-year $1.5 billion journey

NASA launched the Parker Solar probe from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday on a mission to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any has ever been before.

The $1.5 billion Parker probe will go past the sun as close as 3.83 million miles from its surface, the photosphere-a number that sounds huge in total terms yet is in any case sufficiently close to the star to open it to temperatures of nearly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,377 degrees Celsius).

During its 24 close flybys of the sun, the spacecraft will "gradually shrink its orbit around the sun" to fly into the sun's corona-outermost part of the star's atmosphere-that extends millions of kilometres into the outer space.

"Today's launch was the culmination of six decades of scientific study and millions of hours of effort", Andy Driesman, the project manager, from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said. Well not quite to it but near it - the probe will be venturing to within a mere 3.8 million miles from the surface of the sun.

But that wasn't the case on Sunday as flames erupted and the rocket roared to life at the opening of the 65-minute window.

12, at 3:31 a.m. EDT, the United Launch Alliance Delta's Delta IV Heavy rocket successfully lifted off this time.

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Two decades later, just around the time NASA was abuzz with its historic mission to touch the Sun - Parker Solar Probe, Gizmodo.com asked scientists: "Why is 'Walkin' on the Sun' actually pretty timely right now, scientifically speaking?" It will study temperatures and the flow of solar wind.

Onboard the Parker Solar Probe is a suite of instruments created to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, as well as capture images of the solar wind. "We've accomplished something that decades ago, lived exclusively in the realm of science fiction", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Parker probe's findings should help scientists predict these solar storms better.

"He gave me a running commentary through the entire thing and now takes full credit for my interest in space", she said.

"All I can say is, 'Wow, here we go.' We're in for some learning over the next several years", said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named. This is the first time that a NASA mission has been named in honor of a living person. We've studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury.

Additionally, the solar arrays used to power the probe will retract behind the TPS at each approach to the star. The shield's front surface will be able to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft up to 2 500 degrees Fahrenheit, while the inside, or back, surface of the shield will withstand temperatures up to 650 degrees Fahrenheit.

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