THE launch of a historic Nasa probe intended to “touch the sun” has been dramatically aborted just seconds from lift-off today.
The Parker Space Probe was due to blast off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, this morning in a £1.2billion mission.
Thousands of spectators gathered in the middle of the night to witness the launch, including the University of Chicago astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.
Eugene Parker predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago. He’s now 91 and eager to see the probe soar.
But a last minute technical problem saw the launch countdown halted with just one-minute, 55 seconds remaining.
The Delta IV rocket carrying the probe will now attempt to take off again tomorrow, Nasa said.
The probe, which aims to give Nasa an up-close look at how our nearest and dearest star works, will travel at 430,000 miles an hour – faster than any spacecraft in history.
The probe will use Venus’s gravity over the course of it’s 93million-miles journey over seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to “touch the sun”, as Nasa calls it.
Of course, the spacecraft won’t actually touch the sun – its temperature is a ludicrously toasty 5,500 degrees Celcius, and would instantly destroy any probe.
Instead, it will fly into the sun’s atmosphere, where it will observe from a “safe distance” of approximately four million miles away from the star’s surface – protected by a “cutting-edge heat shield”.
“The spacecraft will provide unprecedented information about our sun, where changing conditions can spread out into the solar system to affect Earth and other worlds,” explained Nasa in a statement.
“The spacecraft will trace how energy and heat move through the Sun’s atmosphere and explore what accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles.”
According to Nasa, this will be the closest-ever observation of a star, travelling through the Sun’s atmosphere, or “corona”.
The measurements and imaging captured by the Parker Solar Probe will “revolutionise our understanding of the corona and the Sun-Earth connection”, Nasa revealed.
The Sun – all the facts you need to know
What is it, why does it exist, and why is it so ruddy hot all the time?
- The Sun is a huge star that lives at the centre of our solar system
- It’s a nearly perfect sphere of hot plasma, and provides most of the energy for life on Earth
- It measures a staggering 1.39million kilometres in diamter – making it 109 times bigger than Earth
- But its weight is 330,000 times that of Earth, and accounts for almost all of the mass in the SOlar System
- The Sun is mostly made up of hydrogen (73%), helium (25%) and then a number of other elements like oyxgen, carbon and iron
- Its surface temperature is around 5,505 degrees Celcius
- Scientists describe the Sun as being “middle-aged”
- The Sun formed 4.6billion years ago, and tt’s been in its current state for around four billion years
- And it’s expected that it will remain stable for another five billion years
- It doesn’t have enough mass to explode as a supernova
- Instead, we expect it to turn a hulking red giant
- During this phase, it will be so big that it will engulf Mercury, Venus and Earth
- Eventually it will turn into an incredibly hot white dwarf, and will stay that way for trillions of years
This mission is part of Nasa’s Living With A Star program, which aims to uncover the secrets of the relationship between the Sun and Earth.
The space agency said: “The goal is to provide the comprehensive research needed to understand the many factors affecting the Sun-Earth system and thus provide the information necessary for improved forecasting of space weather.
“LWS missions have been formulated to answer specific science questions about the links between the various solar, Earth and space systems that affect space weather.”
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The programme has four key objectives:
- Space science – quantify the physics, dynamics, and behaviour of the Sun-Earth system over the 11-year solar cycle
- Earth science – improve the understanding of the effects of solar variability and disturbances on Earths’ climate change
- Human exploration and development – provide data and scientific understanding for advanced warning of energetic particle events that affect the safety of humans
- Aeronautics and space transportation – provide detailed characterisation of radiation environments useful in the design of more reliable electronic components for air and space transportation systems
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