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Nasa spacecraft heads to sun for closest look yet

12 August 2018

U.S. space agency Nasa has launched its mission to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any before.

"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

The delicate instrument comes equipped with an array of instruments and tools which will scan the Sun for solar winds and magnetic fields.

Instead, it will fly into the sun's atmosphere, where it will observe from a "safe distance" of approximately four million miles away from the star's surface - protected by a "cutting-edge heat shield".

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.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

To "touch" the sun, the spacecraft will make a swing by Venus to shed some of its sideways momentum, allowing it to take a more straight shot toward the center of the solar system.

The measurements and imaging captured by the Parker Solar Probe will "revolutionise our understanding of the corona and the Sun-Earth connection", Nasa revealed.

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The problem on Saturday had to do with the gaseous helium pressure alarm on the spacecraft, officials said early Saturday.

"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. "We know the questions we want to answer".

The probe is the first NASA spacecraft with a living namesake.

Parker said last week that he was "impressed" by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it "a very complex machine".

No human-made vehicle has ever come so close - leading the American space agency to claim the probe will "touch" the sun.

The probe is created to plunge into the Sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission. "Each time we fly by, we get closer and closer to the Sun".

Nasa spacecraft heads to sun for closest look yet