NASA To Blast Off First Spacecraft To Explore Sun

Saturday, August 11, 2018 - 16:07

The first ever spacecraft to fly directly toward the Sun is poised to blast off Saturday in order to unlock the mysteries of the center of the solar system.

NASA's car-sized, $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to launch on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida during a 65-minute launch window that opens at 3:33 am (0733 GMT), Phys.org reports.

By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun.

"We are going to be in an area that is so exciting, where solar wind—we believe—will be accelerating," said NASA planetary science division director Jim Green.

"Where we see huge magnetic fields that are passing by us, as coronal mass ejections make their way out into the solar system."

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.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

"The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth," said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of Michigan.

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

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