'Touch the sun': NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

'Touch the sun': NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

'Touch the sun': NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

The Delta will hurl the probe into the inner Solar System, enabling the Nasa mission to zip past Venus in six weeks and make a first rendezvous with the Sun a further six weeks after that.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 deg F (1,371 deg C).

Al Jazeera's Shihab Rattansi reports.

"Go, baby, go!" project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University shouted at liftoff.

The solar wind carries a million tons of matter into space every second.

The powerful Delta 4 Heavy and a solid-propellant upper stage will provide the energy needed to counteract Earth's 18-mile-per-second orbital velocity, allowing the Parker Solar Probe to fall into the inner solar system.

The Parker Solar Probe was set to launch this morning just before 9am United Kingdom time from Florida's Cape Canaveral, but an alarm raised during the 65-minute weather window could not be resolved before time elapsed.

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After the Parker Solar Probe blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 11, it will become the first spacecraft ever to fly through the Sun's scorching atmosphere, known as the corona. In the years ahead, it will gradually get within 3.8 million miles (6 million kilometres) of the surface, its instruments protected from the extreme heat and radiation by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wizardry.

Great knowledge about the solar wind and space storms will also help protect future space explorers when they go to the moon or Mars. "Some high-energy solar particles accelerate to almost half the speed of light, and we don't know why".

These solar flares is poorly understood.

To put that in perspective, if the Earth and sun were at opposite ends of a football field, the Parker probe would be on the four-yard line nearest the sun during close approach.

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 kilometres) from Earth.

"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.

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.

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