Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NASA launches historic probe to ‘touch Sun’

NASA launches historic probe to ‘touch Sun’

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
NASA launches the Parker Solar Probe on Sunday from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral. AFP

NASA launches historic probe to ‘touch Sun’

NASA on Sunday launched a $1.5 billion spacecraft towards the Sun on a historic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of dangerous solar storms.

“Three, two, one, zero, and liftoff of the mighty Delta IV Heavy rocket with NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, a daring mission to shed light on the mysteries of our closest star, the Sun,” said the narrator on NASA TV. The launch lit the night sky at Cape Canaveral, Florida at 3:31am (0731 GMT).

Less than an hour later, mission managers confirmed that the spacecraft separated from the rocket as planned and was safely on its journey.

“At this point, spacecraft is up and happy,” said a spokesman with United Launch Alliance, the company that operates the rocket.

The unmanned spacecraft’s mission is to get closer than any human-made object ever to the centre 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.

NASA has billed the mission as the first spacecraft to “touch the Sun”.

In reality, it should come within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometres) 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.

The car-sized probe will give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.

These poorly understood solar outbursts could potentially wipe out power to millions of people.

A worst-case scenario could cost up to two trillion dollars in the first year alone and take a decade for full recovery, experts say.

“The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth,” said Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of Michigan.

Knowing more about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars.

The spacecraft is protected from melting during its close shave with the Sun by a heat shield just 4.5in (11.43cm) thick.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

Yet the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

The probe is set to make 24 passes through the corona collecting data.

“The Sun is full of mysteries,” said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

“We are ready. We have the perfect payload. We know the questions we want to answer.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry issues warning over coronavirus outbreak

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday asked the public to be on “high alert” as a new virus wreaks havoc across Asia. However, no cases have been reported in the Kingdom thus far. The 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has raised the alarm for its similarity to

  • First case of coronavirus reported in the Kingdom

    Cambodia reported its first case of the deadly 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) on Monday, Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng announced. He said medical specialists detected the virus in a Chinese tourist in Sihanoukville. The minister said Jia Jianhua, 60, travelled from Wuhan city, where the outbreak

  • PM urges precaution amid virus outbreak

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday called on all Cambodians to bump up precautions to avoid contracting the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) that has already killed more than 50 people in China. The prime minister told the public to remain calm but alert about the possibility of

  • Gov’t slams NGO over 2019 corruption report

    The government on Thursday slammed a report that described the Kingdom as highly corrupt. Government spokesperson Phay Siphan dismissed the latest Transparency International (TI) report as “just an advertisement of NGOs to promote their own interests”. Released on Thursday, the report puts Cambodia near the

  • No power shortages next dry season, says energy minister

    Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem has assured the public that Cambodia will not suffer power shortages during the next dry season. Speaking on local TV on Tuesday, Sem projected a rise in power demand during 2020’s dry season – which starts in November and

  • App to connect farmers to millions

    The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has soft-launched a mobile app that connects farmers with potential buyers and gives them access to critical market information. The ministry’s Agriculture Marketing Office chief Meach Yady said the ‘CamAgriMarket’ app gives farmers a platform to showcase