NASA’s Parker Solar probe was successfully launched on Sunday Aug 11, from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force station in the US. This is mankind’s first mission to ‘touch’ the sun on an unprecedented 7 year long journey.
‘The spacecraft is in good health and operating on its own. Parker Solar Probe has begun its mission to ‘touch’ the sun,’ NASA said about 2 hours after the launch in a blog post.
This mission is the first to be named after a living scientist, Eugene Norman Parker, 91, who watched the lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre. A plaque attached to the spacecraft dedicates the mission to Parker. He has been doing pioneering work since 1958 when at the University of Chicago he suggested the existence of solar wind, the stream of charged particles constantly released by the sun that moves through the solar system at close to 1 million mph. This ground breaking sun scientist was not believed at first. Only in 1962 using data from the Mariner 2 mission to Venus was the existence of solar wind accepted. Since then Parker’s work has pushed solar research forwards as also our better understanding of magnetic fields and other key areas of study.
This mission’s findings will help researchers with their forecasts of space weather events which have the potential to damage satellites and harm astronauts on orbit, disrupt radio communication and when severe overwhelm power grids. Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said, ‘This mission truly marks humanity’s first visit to a star that will have implications not just here on Earth, but how we better understand our universe.’
The unmanned spacecraft’s mission is to get closer than any human made object ever to the centre of the solar system, moving into the sun’s atmosphere, the corona. The Probe is well guarded by an ultra powerful heat guard. This shield can withstand unprecedented levels of heat and radiation.
The mission should come within 6.16 million kilometres of the sun’s surface, close enough to study the curious phenomenon of solar wind and also the croma. Scientists hope to get a better understanding of the solar winds and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid. The sun has remained a mystery for long. As Parker said, ‘Let’s see what lies ahead.’