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NASA Launches Historic Probe to Touch Sun

NASA Launches Historic Probe to Touch SunNASA Launches Historic Probe to Touch Sun

A NASA spacecraft rocketed toward the sun on Sunday on an unprecedented quest to get closer to our star than anything ever sent before.

The Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, that was visible during last August’s total solar eclipse. It eventually will get within six million kilometers of the sun’s surface, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun in a way never before possible, AP reported.

No wonder scientists consider it the coolest, hottest mission under the sun, and what better day to launch to the sun than Sunday as NASA noted.

“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.

 High-Tech Wonders

Protected by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wonders, the spacecraft will zip past Venus in October. That will set up the first solar encounter in November. Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to the sun on the seven-year, $1.5 billion undertaking.

For the second straight day, thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns, including Parker and his family. He proposed the existence of solar wind—a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun—60 years ago.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness, thrilling onlookers for miles around as it climbed through a clear, star-studded sky. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe—the size of a small car and well under a ton—racing toward the sun.

From Earth, it is 150 million kilometers to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4% of that distance. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.

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