Mission to the sun lifts off Saturday morning

Nasa prepares daring mission to 'touch the Sun'

This will be within 6 million kilometres of the sun's surface, closer than any other spacecraft has been before. During its closest solar approaches, the spacecraft will hurtle through the corona at 430,000 miles per hour (690 kph), setting a speed record.

Scientists have had to take great care to make sure that the Parker Solar Probe doesn't burn up in the process of conducting its important science.

The spacecraft will fly through the sun's corona multiple times to answer several questions, like why it is millions of degrees hotter than the surface of the sun itself. Each flyby will provide an orbit-shaping gravity boost, drawing it ever closer to the Sun and straight into the corona - the Sun's outermost atmosphere.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", project scientist Nicky Fox said in a statement.

"The solar wind also fills up much of the solar system, dominating the space environment far past Earth", NASA said.

Our yellow dwarf star is, in many ways, a mystery. While granting us life, the sun also has the power to disrupt spacecraft in orbit, and communications and electronics on Earth.

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Sixty years ago, a young astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, Eugene Parker, proposed the existence of solar wind. It's the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after someone who's still alive.

The probe will blast off atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Space Launch Complex 37.

Nasa says the TPS has been tested to withstand up to 1,650C temperatures and "can handle any heat the sun can send its way".

The probe, which was designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University, is also carrying more than 1.1 million names to the Sun. So really the only way we can now do it is to do this daring mission to plunge into the corona.

If everything goes as planned, the Parker Solar Probe will reach its first close point to the Sun this November, resulting in the first batch of data in December.

The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest. "We're a technological society, so we have to understand this to better understand its impact and ultimately to be able to predict it just like we do weather on Earth".

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