Launch of NASA's Parker Solar Probe a success — LIFT OFF

The mission costs £1.17billion

Among the puzzlers: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface of the sun and why is the sun's atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker accurately predicted in 1958?

And the mystery is profound.

Sensors will make certain the heat shield faces the sun at the right times and it will correct itself if it ends up at the wrong angle.

To shield the probe from the Sun's intense heat and radiation, the Parker probe is armed with a novel carbon-composite shield.

Scientists have two theories about what heats up the corona.

"We've been inside the orbit of Mercury and done fantastic things, but until you go and touch the sun, you can't answer these questions", Nicola Fox, mission project scientist, told CNN. That defies the laws of nature. "We know the questions we want to answer".

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface, but it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms, wreaking havoc on Earth by disrupting the power grid.

"So it's of fundamental importance for us to be able to predict this space weather much like we predict weather here on Earth". Sixty years ago, it was Parker who first proposed that the sun sent out a stream of solar wind.

The Parker Solar Probe took off this morning from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after NASA was forced to postpone the launch on August 11.

The Delta 4 Heavy did not disappoint.

The probe won't actually land on the sun, but it will make history - getting closer than any other man-made object.

"It's a whole new phase, and it's going to be fascinating throughout".

"Wow, here we go".

"All I can say is "Wow, here we go, we're in for some learning over the next several years", he said when asked how he felt.

Spectators lined roads and riverbanks overlooking Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to witness the fiery 3.31am (EST) departure of a $1.5 billion mission that has been developed over six decades.

The rocket smoothly accelerated as it consumed propellant and lost weight, powering out of the thick lower atmosphere in spectacular fashion.

"Three, two, one, zero, and liftoff!"

The central core booster continued firing for another minute and a half before it, too, shut down and fell away from the fast-moving second stage.

Parker Solar Probe's solar arrays can produce 388 watts of power, depending on configuration.

The unprecedented sun-skimming probe that lifted off today from the USA 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. "Each time we fly by, we get closer and closer to the Sun".

An artist's depiction of the Parker Solar Probe at work around the sun.

"The sky was waiting for us, Venus was waiting for us, and it was just an incredible sight to see".

"During summer, Earth and the other planets in our solar system are in the most favourable alignment to allow us to get close to the Sun".

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