NASA launches Parker Solar Probe ‘mission to touch the sun’
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CNN) — Humanity’s first visit to a star began this weekend. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will explore the sun’s atmosphere in a mission that launched early Sunday morning. This is the agency’s first mission to the sun and its outermost atmosphere, the corona.
After being delayed on Saturday, the probe successfully launched at 3:31 a.m. ET Sunday from Cape Canaveral on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, one of the world’s most powerful rockets.
Although the probe itself is about the size of a car, a powerful rocket is needed to escape Earth’s orbit, change direction and reach the sun.
Six weeks after launch, the probe will encounter Venus’ gravity for the first time. It will be used to help slow the probe, like pulling on a handbrake, and orient the probe so it’s on a path to the sun.
“The launch energy to reach the Sun is 55 times that required to get to Mars, and two times that needed to get to Pluto,” Yanping Guo of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, who designed the mission trajectory, said in a statement. “During summer, Earth and the other planets in our solar system are in the most favorable alignment to allow us to get close to the Sun.”