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World

AFP
August 13, 2018

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Nasa launches Parker Solar Probe in first mission to ‘touch Sun

TAMPA: Nasa on Sunday blasted off its first-ever spaceship to explore the Sun, the $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe, on a strategic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of dangerous solar storms.

The launch of the car-sized probe aboard a massive Delta IV-Heavy rocket lit the night sky at Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:31 am (0731 GMT). The unmanned spacecraft’s mission is to get closer than any human-made object ever to the center of our solar system, plunging into the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona, during a seven-year mission.

The probe is guarded by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth. When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel at some 430,000 miles per hour.

That will make it the fastest ever human-made object, speedy enough to travel from New York to Tokyo in one minute. "This mission truly marks humanity’s first visit to a star," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate.

"We’ve accomplished something that decades ago, lived solely in the realm of science fiction," he added, describing the probe as one of Nasa’s "strategically important" missions. Nasa has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun."

In reality, it should come within 3.83 million miles of the Sun’s surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of the solar wind and the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona, which is 300 times hotter than its surface.

Scientists hope this close encounter will give them a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

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