NASA postpones launch of first solar probe until Sunday


The Parker Solar Probe's second launch attempt in a mission to touch the sun was successful early Sunday.

The probe will fly into a region where temperatures exceed a million degrees Fahrenheit (555,000 degrees Celsius) but the sun is expected to heat the shield to a relatively modest 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius).

Al Jazeera's Shihab Rattansi reports.

The probe will be controlled from the Mission Operations Centre based at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU APL), which is where NASA handles its unmanned missions.

Parker will help us better understand how the Sun works.

Energy is stored in magnetic fields, the thinking goes, that are constantly stirring up the visible surface of the Sun, called the photosphere, and releasing energy into the solar atmosphere.

The Parker Solar Probe was set to launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Saturday, but last-minute investigations have delayed it for 24 hours, said a BBC News report on Saturday.

Once on its way, the Parker probe will venture closer to our star than any other spacecraft.

He said: "Wow, here we go!"

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The corona is not only 300 times hotter than the sun's surface but it also discharges powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms that can wreak havoc on Earth by disrupting power grids.

The probe will make at least 24 passes around the sun, with gravity assists from Venus for seven of them, and continue going after that as long as it has propellant. "We know the questions we want to answer.".

The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest.

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from NY to Tokyo in one minute - some 430,000 miles per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.

After escaping Earth's gravity, the probe will travel almost 90 million miles.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the middle of the night on Friday to witness the launch, including the University of Chicago astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

Those extremes will not be seen until the later orbits, but Parker will be collecting data during all of its trips around the sun, starting with its first close encounter three months after launch.

"The science is ground breaking, it's compelling, it's confused scientists and puzzled us for decades and decades and decades", Fox said.