Mo Brooks congratulates Decatur-based company's solar probe launch

Thursday, 16 Aug, 2018

Parker is required to illuminate two long-term solar secrets, the first is the manner by which the solar breeze quickens from its still state after leaving the sun's surface to nearly 900,000 miles per hour to 1.8 miles per hour when it reaches Earth's circle.

Nothing has ever ventured this close to the sun before, the closest we've gotten has been around 27 million miles from it, so the mission is definitely breaking records.

The probe is set to become the fastest artificial object in history, careering across our Solar System at 690,000km/h (430,000mph) - fast enough to go from NY to Tokyo in under a minute.

The front of the heat shield will have to withstand temperatures of around 25-hundred degrees Fahrenheit.

Researchers will vicariously explore the Sun's corona, or outer atmosphere, in an effort to better understand the complexities of the solar wind Parker theorized 60 years ago. The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off from the U.S. is set to study the "solar winds" proposed in the paper by Dr Eugene Newman Parker, who has now become the first living scientist to have mission named after him. These instruments will be protected from the extreme temperatures by a heat shield made from a carbon composite foam sandwiched between two carbon plates.

What kind of effects will the probe experience as it orbits the sun, and what about the spacecraft will help it stay on course?

Back in March, NASA invited members of the public to submit their names to be included on a memory card that is now mounted on the Parker Probe as it hurtles through space.

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"I'm just so glad to be here with him", said NASA's science mission chief, Thomas Zurbuchen. She urged it to "go touch the sun!" The probe will allow this by flying through the Sun's atmosphere, at a proximity never achieved before by any other man-made spacecraft, 3.8 million miles away from the sun's surface.

Illustration of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the Sun.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", according to project scientist Nicky Fox of APL.

The spacecraft's heat shield will serve as an umbrella, shading the science instruments during the close, critical solar junctures.

Parker watched the launch at Cape Canaveral, and said it was his first time seeing a rocket blast off in person. The spacecraft has a microchip carrying the names of more than 1.1 million participants who signed up to send their name to the Sun. "We're in for some learning over the next several years", said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

"For scientists like myself, the reward of the long, hard work will be the unique set of measurements returned by Parker", said Szabo. "It gives me the sense of excitement of an explorer".