NASA's Parker Solar Probe embarks on a mission to 'touch' the sun

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That shield should absorb the extreme heat of the sun, heating up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and keeping the spacecraft and its sensitive instruments at 85 degrees Fahrenheit, according to NASA.

Our yellow dwarf star is, in many ways, a mystery.

The $1.5-billion, car-sized spacecraft is created to provide a close look at the sun's atmosphere - what astronomers call the corona - to answer enduring questions about this ultra-hot region of our nearest star."We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", project scientist Nicola Fox of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, said in a written statement.

Parker's 2.4-metre heat shield is just 4-and-a-half-inch thick. During its closest solar approaches, the spacecraft will hurtle through the corona at 430,000 miles per hour (690 kph), setting a speed record.

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Eugene Parker, 91, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, predicted the existence of solar wind 60 years ago.

The memory card also contains photos of Dr. Parker and his groundbreaking 1958 scientific paper on solar wind. Among other things, the spacecraft will carry a microchip with more than a million names on it. "Our first fly-by to Venus is in the fall, in September".

Helios 2 got within 43 million km of the sun in 1976.

The Parker probe's final three orbits - in 2024 and 2025 - will be the closest. The spacecraft eventually will run out of fuel and, no longer able to keep its heat shield pointed toward the sun, will burn and break apart - except perhaps for the rugged heat shield.

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It weighs a mere 635 kg. And it needs to be, because it takes an enormous amount of energy to get to our final orbit around the Sun.

"We'll be going where no spacecraft has dared go before - within the corona of a star", project scientist Nicky Fox said in a statement.

Though the mission has affectionately been dubbed as one to "touch the sun", the probe won't quite go that far, Fox News explained.

Additionally, the Sun is the only star we can study up-close, and any insights we glean from the Parker Solar Probe could help us better understand how other stars function.

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"And last but not least, we have a white light imager that is taking images of the atmosphere right in front of the Sun".

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