Spacecraft To "Touch Sun" Blasts Off On Mission To Solve Solar Mysteries

Spacecraft To

Nasa's most powerful rocket, which is carrying the satellite, was launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in the early hours of Sunday morning.

The $1.5 billion (£1.2 billion) probe, which is the size of the vehicle, will play a vital role in our understanding of the solar system.

No human-made vehicle has ever come so close - leading the American space agency to claim the probe will "touch" the sun.

The car-sized spacecraft will travel directly into the Sun's atmosphere, about four million miles from its surface - and more than seven times closer than any spacecraft has come before, thanks to its innovative Thermal Protection System.

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.

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

He said: "Wow, here we go!"

To handle the heat it has been covered with a special 4.5 inch thick carbon-composite shield capable of withstanding temperatures up to 1,650C.

It is the first space craft to be named after a living person - astrophysicist Eugene Parker, 91, who first described solar wind in 1958.

Dr Nicky Fox, the British-born project scientist affiliated to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, explained to the BBC just how close the probe would get to to the sun.

NASA chief of the science mission directorate, Thomas Zurbuchen, said on Saturday that Parker is an "incredible hero of our scientific community", and called the probe one of NASA most "strategically important" missions.

Protected by a revolutionary new heat shield, the spacecraft will fly past Venus in October, setting up its first solar encounter in November.

A white light imager will take images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun.

"We'll also be the fastest human-made object ever, travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - NY to Tokyo in under a minute!" she told BBC News.

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