NASA has launched a mission to study the Sun’s atmosphere and solar wind that will come far closer to our star than any other craft before. The Parker Solar Probe took off today from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 03:33 local time aboard a Delta IV rocket. During the mission’s seven-year lifespan, it will perform 24 orbits around the Sun coming as close as 6.1 million kilometres to its surface – well within the orbit of Mercury.
We’ll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before – within the corona of a star
The nearest probe to have reached the Sun was the Helios 2 spacecraft, which in 1976 came within 44.5 million kilometres of the Sun’s surface. The 635 kg Parker Solar Probe will come near enough to the Sun allowing it to watch the solar wind speed up from subsonic to supersonic and trace how energy and heat move through the corona. This will allow scientists to gain information about what accelerates the solar wind as well as the high-energy particles coming from the Sun, known as solar energetic particles.
To do so, the Parker Solar Probe will carry four instruments. One instrument, ...