NASA is about to launch the fastest manmade object ever

Artist’s concept of the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft approaching the sun. Pic Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

Image Artist's concept of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun. Pic NASA

NASA's Parker Solar Probe will be the first spacecraft to "touch" the sun, hurtling through the sizzling solar atmosphere and coming within just 6 million kilometres (3.8 million miles) of the surface.

Over the course of its seven-year mission, the probe will orbit the sun 24 times, each time sweeping through the corona, where the temperature is a blistering 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 1,400 degrees Celsius).

The white heat shield will keep the spacecraft instruments a cooler 85 degrees.

One science task of the probe is to study the acceleration of the solar wind and the Sun's constant outflow of material, while the other is exploring the secret of the corona's enormously high temperatures, said NASA.

On Friday, the Parker Solar Probe mission and launch teams concluded a successful Launch Readiness Review.

NASA selected ULA´s Delta IV Heavy for its unique ability to deliver the necessary energy to begin the Parker Solar Probe´s journey to the sun.

Icola Fox, Parker Space Solar Probe Project scientist said, "Why this atmosphere is continually expanding and continually accelerating away from the star".

But the Parker Solar Probe was built to do just that. That's essentially what scientists have been doing with our solar system's sun - and for good reason - as it can reach more than 27 million degrees Fahrenheit. At its closest approach, it will pass within 3.8 million miles from the surface of the Sun.

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The goal is to understand - and be better able to predict - the behavior of the solar wind that triggers auroral displays on Earth and occasionally wreaks havoc with power grids and satellites. The $1.5-billion, car-sized spacecraft is created to provide a close look at the sun's atmosphere - what astronomers call the corona - to answer enduring questions about this ultra-hot region of our nearest star. After that late September flyby, the Parker should make its first close approach to the sun on November 1 - the first of about two dozen solar passes and seven gravity assists from Venus.

"They reach Earth" - 150 million kilometres (more than 90 million miles) distant - "in 30 to 60 minutes".

The Delta IV Heavy is the nation´s proven heavy lifter, delivering high-priority missions for the US Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office and NASA. By operating so close to the Sun, it will be passing through an environment with enormous radio interference. FIELDS will measure electric and magnetic waves around the probe, WISPR will take images, SWEAP will count charged particles and measure their properties, and ISOIS will measure the particles across a wide spectrum. Sixty years ago, the young astrophysicist proposed the existence of solar wind. This same element is found on the nose of space shuttles, to protect them when they enter or leave the Earth's atmosphere.

Parker is now the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago.

The Parker Solar Probe will carry a chip with photos of Parker, his revolutionary paper and his message to the sun: "Let's see what lies ahead". There is also a white light imager, taking pictures of what the spacecraft is about to "plow through", said Fox.

The Parker mission is very important for astronomers, as it could provide answers to questions that have been asked for decades.

"The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before", Parker said. We've looked at it. I'm sure that there will be some surprises.

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