NASA began its 1.5 billion mission to reach the sun, launching The Parker Solar Probe from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early Sunday morning, Space.com reported.
It is the space agency’s first mission to reach the sun and its outermost atmosphere.
The probe, sent on the powerful United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, is extraordinarily prepared to deal with the extreme heat.
“The solar-powered probe is equipped with a 7.5-foot-wide (2.3 meters), 4.5-inch-thick (11.4 centimeters) shield made of advanced carbon-composite material, which will keep most of the spacecraft’s scientific instruments at a comfortable 85 degrees F,” Space.com explained.
“We’ve been studying the Sun for decades, and now we’re finally going to go where the action is,” said Alex Young, solar scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
According to Space.com, the probe will travel faster than any other craft in history.
“(It is) the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) — New York to Tokyo in under a minute!” mission project scientist Nicola Fox, told the BBC.
The probe will fly past Venus six weeks into its journey, and reach the sun another six weeks after that.
“The launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times that required to get to Mars, and two times that needed to get to Pluto,” explained Yanping Guo of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who designed the mission trajectory. “During summer, Earth and the other planets in our solar system are in the most favorable alignment to allow us to get close to the Sun.”
The mission will provide space scientists with information about the sun that was previously unknowable.
“We’ve been inside the orbit of Mercury and done amazing things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can’t answer these questions,” Fox said. “Why has it taken us 60 years? The materials didn’t exist to allow us to do it. We had to make a heat shield, and we love it. Something that can withstand the extreme hot and cold temperature shifts of its 24 orbits is revolutionary.”
The probe is named after 91-year-old astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who first pioneered the mission to touch the sun.
“It’s going to be absolutely phenomenal,” NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green told Space.com. “We’ve been wanting to do this for 60 years, ever since Eugene Parker got up and said, ‘I believe the sun is outgassing.'”
The first data from the probe is expected to download in December.
The mission is scheduled to end in June 2025.
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