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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Mission named “Touch the Sun” launched

After decades of scientific brainstorming and years of construction, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is safely on its way to flying seven times closer to the sun than any mission has before.

Parker Solar Probe is the fourth mission for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP) this year. LSP is responsible for launch service acquisition, integration, analysis and launch management for each mission.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe countdown, launch and ascent into space for its mission to explore the Sun.

Now that the spacecraft is finally off the ground, it won’t be long before scientists can start digging into its data — and that data will keep coming for seven years.

What is Parker Solar Probe ?

Parker Solar Probe is revolutionize our understanding of the Sun’s corona. Facing brutal heat and radiation, the spacecraft will fly close enough to watch the solar wind speed up from subsonic to supersonic, and fly through the birthplace of the highest-energy solar particles. Parker Solar Probe and its instruments will be protected from the Sun’s heat by a 4.5-inch-thick, carbon-carbon composite heat shield. The shield’s front surface will be able to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft up to 2,500 degree Fahrenheit. While the inside, or back surface of the shield will withstand temperatures up to 650 degrees Fahrenheit.

Touch The Sun Mission

For more than 60 years, scientist have wondered how energy and heat move through the solar corona and what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles. Now, with the help of cutting-edge thermal technology that can protect the mission on its dangerous journey, the spacecraft’s four instrument suites will study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind.

How is Mission named “Touch The Sun” or Parker Solar Probe ?

In 2017, the mission was renamed for Eugene Parker, the S Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago. In the 1950s, Parker, a solar astrophysicist, proposed a number of concepts about how stars–including our Sun–give off energy. He called this cascade of energy the solar wind, and he described an entire complex system of plasmas, magnetic fields, and energetic particles that make up this phenomenon. Parker also theorized an explanation for the superheated solar atmosphere, the corona, which is–contrary to what was expected by physics laws–hotter than the surface of the Sun itself. This is the first NASA mission that has been named for a living individual.

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 flight program is managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, manages the mission for NASA. APL designed and built the spacecraft and also will operate it.

At Last After Seven Years

As the mission continues, the spacecraft will move closer and closer to the sun, eventually coming to less than 4 million miles (6 million kilometers) above the visible layer of the sun that we think of as the surface.

On each orbit, the spacecraft will take the same measurements at different depths in the sun’s atmosphere, which is called the corona. That layer, which is invisible from Earth except during a total solar eclipse, reaches temperatures of millions of degrees (Fahrenheit or Celsius).

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