Nasa launches probe to unlock Sun’s mysteries

WASHINGTON: A Nasa probe blasted off on Sunday towards the Sun for a seven-year mission in which it will travel through the star’s atmosphere and get closer to the solar surface than any previous spacecraft.
The Parker Solar Probe, about the size of a small car, successfully lifted off atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket at 3:31 am (07:31 GMT) from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the US space agency said.
It will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere, where the temperature is about 1,300 degrees Celsius, to become the first probe to reach the Sun’s corona.
The probe will head first to Venus and begin seven fly-bys so it can make use of the planet’s gravity to gradually bring itself closer to the Sun. It is scheduled to make its first close approach to the star in November.
Once there, it will perform 24 orbits during seven years, studying not only the corona, but also the solar wind, the magnetic field and plasma ejections.
The 700-kg probe will reach a top speed of around 200 km per second as it orbits the Sun.
Scientists hope it will solve mysteries that have long puzzled them — such as why the corona is hotter than the surface of the
Sun itself.
It could also help researchers better understand weather in space, such as solar storms that have the ability to cripple Earth’s power grids.
“Today’s launch was the culmination of six decades of scientific study and millions of hours of effort,” said mission project manager Andy Driesman in a statement. “Now, Parker Solar Probe is operating normally and on its way to begin a seven-year mission of extreme science.” — DPA