Probe launches after technical delay, on mission to get nearer to sun than anything sent before
A Nasa spacecraft is rocketing towards the sun on a 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, which was visible during last Augusts total solar eclipse. It eventually will get within 3.8m miles (6.1m km) of the suns surface, staying comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation, and allowing scientists to explore the sun in a way never before possible.
Fly baby girl, fly!! project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before liftoff. She urged it to go touch the sun.
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, $1.5bn (1.2bn) project.
For the second day in succession, thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns. Among the crowd was 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker, for whom the spacecraft is named. He proposed the existence of solar wind a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun 60 years ago.
It is the first time Nasa has named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker was not about to let it take off without him being there. Saturday mornings launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble.
Im just so glad to be here with him, said Nasas science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen. Frankly, theres no other name that belongs on this mission.
The Delta IV Heavy rocket thundered into the pre-dawn darkness on Sunday, thrilling onlookers for miles around. Nasa needed the mighty 23-storey rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe the size of a small car and weighing well under a tonne racing toward the sun.
From Earth, it is 93m miles to the sun, and the Parker probe will be within 4% of that distance. That will be seven times closer than previous spacecraft.