New Horizon's Spacecraft Finds 'Hydrogen Wall' at End of Solar System

Kerry GarnerAug 13, 2018

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

It will be flying at speeds of 430,000 miles per hour and endure temperatures of 1,300 degrees Celsius, moving as close as within 6.16 million km of the sun's boiling surface.

"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 MI.

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 two side boosters shut down and fell away as expected a bit less than four minutes after liftoff.

NASA hopes the probe - which was named in honor of Dr. Eugene Parker, a University of Chicago professor who successfully predicted the existence of solar wind in 1958 - will help scientists crack some of the sun's greatest mysteries, including the secret of the corona's incredibly high temperatures and the origins of and the mechanism behind the acceleration of solar wind.

NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the Parker probe - the size of a small auto and well under a ton - racing toward the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth.

Speechless is not a word typically used to describe Nicky Fox, mission scientist for the Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab.

Tools on board will measure high-energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun.

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PSP is the only NASA mission, scientific probe to study the sun's corona and solar wind. "We have not been able to answer these questions". The spacecraft will also be prepared for the first of seven planned Venus flybys scheduled for October 2.

"I really have to turn from biting my nails and getting it launched to thinking about all the interesting things which I don't know yet, and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years", Parker said.

The probe is NASA's first to be named after a living person.

Its maximum velocity around the sun will reach 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object to orbit a celestial body. The carbon composite shield will experience 2,500-degree heating on the side facing the sun while keeping temperatures at a comfortable 85 degrees in the shade where the probe's instruments and critical systems are located.

"Wow, here we go!"

The Parker probe, which cost a whopping $1.5bn (£1.17bn) left Cape Canaveral last night atop a big rocket, bound for the centre of our galaxy.

"We've had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams", Fox said. While granting us life, the sun also has the power to disrupt spacecraft in orbit, as well as communications and electronics on Earth.

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