Launch of NASA's Parker Solar Probe a success — LIFT OFF

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"The unique requirements of this mission made the Delta IV Heavy the ideal launch vehicle to deliver Parker Solar Probe into orbit with the highest precision", said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of Government and Commercial Programs.

These solar outbursts are poorly understood, but pack the potential to wipe out power to millions of people.

Passing within 3.8 million miles of the sun's visible surface - well within the shimmering halo of the outer atmosphere, or corona - the spacecraft's heat shield will endure 2,500-degree heating while whipping past the star at a record 430,000 mph, fast enough to fly from NY to Tokyo in less than a minute.

Dr Nicky Fox of Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory said: "I realise that might not sound that close, but imagine the Sun and the Earth were a metre apart. Each time we fly by, we get closer and closer to the Sun". But the probe's heat shield will still get hotter than lava while its instruments study the hellish environment in unprecedented detail.

To shield the probe from the Sun's intense heat and radiation, the Parker probe is armed with a novel carbon-composite shield.

Over the next seven years, Parker will fly directly through the Sun's roasting hot outer atmosphere in a bid to unlock some of the solar system's greatest secrets.

Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay at just 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

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The mission has been more than two decades in the making with the idea first proposed in the Nineties.

Justin Kasper, a project scientist and professor at the University of MI, said: 'The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth'. The probe is set to make 24 passes through the corona collecting data.

More knowledge of solar wind and space storms will also help protect future deep space explorers as they journey toward the Moon or Mars. "We have not been able to answer these questions".

Looking on at launch was Eugene Parker, the University of Chicago astrophysicist who first theorized the existence of the solar wind in 1958. "We're in for some learning over the next several years".

"All I have to say is wow, here we go". NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community".

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments. It could be due to interactions between electrically charged particles and the sun's powerful magnetic field, or it could be the result of countless "nanoflares" governed by another mechanism. The extreme pull of the sun's gravity will then accelerate the probe up to insane speeds of as much as 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 km/h) as it grazes the edge of the most powerful object in our corner of the galaxy.

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