Posted on August 14, 2018
NASA's Parker solar probe Explores the Sun's atmosphere on a mission that began early Sunday. This is the agency's first mission to the Sun and its outermost atmosphere, the corona.
After being delayed on Saturday, the probe was successfully launched at 3:31 a.m. ET on Sunday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a Delta IV rocket from United Launch Alliance, one of the most powerful rockets in the world.
Although the probe itself is the size of a car, a powerful rocket is needed to escape Earth's orbit, change direction and reach the Sun.
Six weeks after launch, the probe encounters Venus's gravity for the first time. It is used to help slow down the probe, to orient it and be on the path to the Sun.
"During the summer, the Earth and the other planets of our solar system are in the most favourable alignment to allow us to approach the Sun."
It is not a journey that can be human, which NASA is sending a fully autonomous probe closer to the Sun.
The probe must resist heat and radiation before experimenting with a spacecraft, but the mission will also address the questions before it is answered.
The probe will orbit within 6.2 million kilometres of the Sun's surface in 2024, closer to the star than Mercury.
This took more than 60 years because there were no materials that allowed us to do it.
The probe achieved a speed of 692,000 kilometres per hour around the Sun, establishing an obstacle to the fastest object made by man. On Earth, this speed allows someone to get from Philadelphia to Washington in a second, the agency said.
Observations and data on the physics of the stars, change what we know about the mysterious corona, increase the understanding of the solar wind and help improve the forecast of major meteorological space events. Those events can affect satellites and astronauts, as well as Earth, including power grids and radiation exposure on airline flights, NASA said.