MIAMI – NASA’s Parker Solar Probe successfully took off on Sunday from Cape Canaveral on its historic mission to be the first aircraft to travel to the Sun’s outer atmosphere.
The Delta IV Heavy rocket carrying the probe launched at 3:31 am local time in a brilliant explosion that stood out in the pre-dawn dark.
“Parker Solar Probe is headed for the Sun!” the agency tweeted, alongside images of the blast-off.
It had already been delayed three times, the last time on Saturday, when the launch limit was violated and NASA was forced to wait for the next favorable window to allow it to take off.
The probe is named for United States astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who during the 1950s made the biggest discoveries about the Sun’s corona, or atmosphere, and developed the theory of the so-called “solar wind.”
But scientists still don’t know why the corona gets up to over 2 million C (3.8 million F) while the actual “surface” of the Sun is only 6,000 C (10,800 F).
To find out, the Parker probe will orbit the Sun 24 times, taking advantage of Venus’ gravity to edge closer and closer to the star until it can make three quite close orbits in 2025.