NASA has finally sent a spacecraft on a mission to fly where no probe has ever gone before; the sun’s scorching outer atmosphere.
The probe took off at 3.31 ET (8.31 BST) this morning. It was initially set to launch at 3.33am ET (8.33am BST) yesterday, but due to poor conditions, the launch time was moved.
The unmanned spacecraft is on an unprecedented quest that will take it straight through the edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, just 3.8million miles from the sun’s surface.
Previously, the closest an aircraft had come to the sun was 27million miles.
Preparing to launch: The probe gets ready for take-off at T-minus one second this morning.
The $1.5billion (£1.17billion) Parker Probe will hit record-breaking speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour as it completes 24 orbits of the sun over the course of seven years.
At this speed, it would take two minutes to travel from London to New York.
While orbiting the sun, the craft will swing around Venus seven times, using the planet’s gravity to push it closer and closer to our star with each pass; eventually, the Parker probe will get within 3.8 million miles of the sun’s surface.
It will make its first fly past Venus in October, and is protected by a revolutionary new heat shield.
That will set up the first solar encounter in November.
It will be subjected to temperatures of roughly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371°C) when it comes closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history but, behind its thick heat shield, it will only feel like a hot summer day, with this sheltered region maxing out at about 85F (29C).
The NASA spacecraft taking off this morning.
This mission will require 55 times more energy than would be needed to reach Mars, according to NASA.
The probe will rely on a series of gravity assists from Venus to slow down its sideways motion, allowing it to get just 3.8 million miles away from the sun’s surface.
The historic mission will give us the best opportunity yet to study the star that holds up our entire solar system. And, it’s one of the last places within our stellar neighborhood that has yet to be explored.
Roughly 1,400 pounds of solar projection and science equipment are protected by an advanced heat shield, which uses a 4.5-inch thick carbon composite foam material between two carbon fiber face sheets.
The probe can be seen above as it was lifted onto the third stage rocket motor