US space agency NASA on August 12, 2018 launched Parker Solar Probe, a historic mission to touch the sun. The main aim of the mission is to send a satellite closer to the Sun than any before.
The rocket carrying the solar probe lifted off from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US. The launch happened after a failed attempt on the previous day, when a last-minute alarm caused the agency to miss its 65-minute weather window.
The mission is named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, the physicist who first theorised the existence of the solar wind in 1958. It is the first space craft to be named after a living person.
A plaque dedicating the mission to Parker was attached to the spacecraft in May. It includes a quote from the renowned physicist – “Let’s see what lies ahead.”
It also holds a memory card containing more than 1.1 million names submitted by the public to travel with the spacecraft to the Sun.
Parker Solar Probe, is the world’s first-ever mission to touch the Sun. It will perform the closest-ever observations of a star when it travels through the Sun's outer atmosphere - called the corona.
The car-sized spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere, about four million miles from its surface and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before.
The mission is expected to unlock the mysteries of the star's fiery outer atmosphere and its effects on space weather during its seven-year long journey.
The overall cost of the mission is expected to be around 1.5 billion US dollars.
• The solar probe was launched aboard United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.
• Just under an hour after the launch, NASA confirmed that the spacecraft had successfully separated and the probe had been released into space.
• The spacecraft is expected to fly past Venus in six weeks and make the first contact with the Sun six weeks after that.
• In its seven-year mission, Parker Solar Probe will make six more Venus flybys and 24 total passes by the Sun, journeying steadily closer to the Sun until it makes its closest approach at 3.8 million miles.
• At this point, the probe will be moving at roughly 430,000 miles per hour, setting the record of being the fastest human-made object ever.
• The probe will dip inside the tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions and getting to just 6.16 million km from the Sun's broiling surface.
• It is expected to transmit its first science observations in December 2018.
How will the findings help?
The mission’s findings will help researchers improve their forecasts of space weather events, which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communications and, at their most severe, overwhelm power grids.
During the first week of its journey, the spacecraft will deploy its high-gain antenna and magnetometer boom.
It will also perform the first of a two-part deployment of its electric field antennas.
Instrument testing will begin in early September and last approximately four weeks, after which the probe will begin its science operations.
The probe carries four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles and capture images of the solar wind.
Following are some of the mysteries that the probe aims to solve:
Why the Sun’s outer atmosphere - corona is 300 times hotter than its surface, which is thousands of miles below?
What drives the supersonic solar wind – the constant stream of solar material that blows through the entire solar system?
What accelerates solar energetic particles, which can reach a speed of up to more than half the speed of light as they move away from the Sun?
• Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s ‘Living with a Star’ program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society.
• The ‘Living with a Star’ program is managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
• The spacecraft has been designed and built by APL, which also operates it.
• The University of California, Berkeley, US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and Princeton University in New Jersey lead the investigations.