NASA spacecraft rockets toward the sun for our closest look yet

Parker Solar Probe

The Parker solar probe, a robotic spacecraft the size of a small vehicle, launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Sunday, embarking on a seven-year mission which will see it flying into the sun's corona - the outermost part of its atmosphere - within 3.8m miles (6.1 m km) of its surface.

But these solar outbursts are poorly understood.

A revolutionary carbon heat shield will protect it, while the tried-but-true practice of using water inside the craft to cool it down is also being utilised.

Over the course of seven years, Parker will make 24 loops around our star to study the physics of the corona, the place where much of the important activity that affects the Earth seems to originate.

Sensors will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times and it will correct itself if it ends up at the wrong angle.

The car-sized spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere, about four million miles from its surface - and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before, thanks to its innovative Thermal Protection System.

The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid. It has been outfitted with a heat shield created to keep its instruments at a tolerable 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 degrees Celsius) even as the spacecraft faces temperatures reaching almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) at its closest pass. Yet the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit. "We have not been able to answer these questions".

The probe, named after American solar astrophysicist Eugene Newman Parker, will have to survive hard heat and radiation conditions.

"My PhD research supported an alternate theory for the Sun's magnetic cycle, different from a theory that had been proposed earlier by Parker", Nandi recalls.

In this Thursday, August 9, 2018, astrophysicist Eugene Parker attends a news conference about the Parker Solar Probe named after him, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA project manager Andy Driesman said: "We will fly by Venus seven times throughout the mission".

Finally, after two firings of the second-stage engine, the Parker Solar Probe and its Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage were released from the Delta 4.

The spacecraft, which will plunge into the sun's atmosphere, known as the corona, is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield.

"We will also be listening for plasma waves that we know flow around when particles move", Fox added.

"During summer, Earth and the other planets in our solar system are in the most favourable alignment to allow us to get close to the Sun".

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