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12 August 2018, 03:07 | Edward Lowe
The Parker Solar Probe launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral Florida on Sunday
In the early hours of Sunday morning, a NASA rocket carrying the Parker Solar Probe was successfully launched from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station - marking the beginning of a seven-year mission that aims to get the probe closer to the sun than any human-made object has gone before.
The probe will make its closest approach in 2024 when the next total solar eclipse is expected to be seen over the US, and with that, the spacecraft will be visible. NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the diminutive Parker probe - the size of a small vehicle and well under a ton - racing toward the sun.
The mission has been more than two decades in the making with the idea first proposed in the Nineties.
At a press conference last week, Parker said of his namesake mission: "I expect to find some surprises".
By coming closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, the unmanned probe's main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around the Sun.
"The sun is full of mysteries", said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
"The spacecraft must operate in the sun's corona, where temperatures can reach millions of degrees", Brown told ABC News via email.
The craft will endure extreme heat while zooming through the solar corona to study the Sun's outer atmosphere that gives rise to the solar winds.
"The outer sun-facing side of the shield will reach 2,500 Fahrenheit at closest approach to the sun".
In this Thursday, August 9, 2018, astrophysicist Eugene Parker attends a news conference about the Parker Solar Probe named after him, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The car-sized probe is created to give scientists a better understanding of solar wind and geomagnetic storms that risk wreaking chaos on Earth by knocking out the power grid.
If all goes well, the Parker Solar Probe will swing by Venus in about six weeks for a gravitational encounter that will help the spacecraft slow down still more. Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person. NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community".
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Finally, after two firings of the second-stage engine, the Parker Solar Probe and its Northrup Grumman solid-fuel upper stage were released from the Delta 4.
A mission to get this close has been on NASA's books since 1958.
"To me, it's still mind-blowing, " she said.
Instruments on board may also help to explain why the corona is hotter than the sun's surface by several orders of magnitude.
Sensors will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times and it will correct itself if it ends up at the wrong angle.
"So we're already in a region of very, very interesting coronal area", Fox said.
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