‘Touch the sun’: NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

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NASA's Parker Solar Probe launches from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 12, 2018. (REUTERS/Mike Brown)
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The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe to the Sun at Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 12, 2018. (NASA/Bill Ingalls/Handout via REUTERS)
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In this photo provided by NASA, the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe to touch the Sun on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (Bill Ingalls/NASA via AP)
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The United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA's Parker Solar Probe to the Sun at Cape Canaveral, Florida, US, on August 12, 2018. (NASA/Bill Ingalls/Handout via REUTERS)
Updated 13 August 2018
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‘Touch the sun’: NASA spacecraft hurtles toward our star

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: Embarking on a mission that scientists have been dreaming of since the Sputnik era, a NASA spacecraft hurtled Sunday toward the sun on a quest to unlock some of its mysteries by getting closer than any object sent before.
If all goes well, the Parker Solar Probe will fly straight through the wispy edges of the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, in November. In the years ahead, it will gradually get within 3.8 million miles (6 million kilometers) of the surface, its instruments protected from the extreme heat and radiation by a revolutionary new carbon heat shield and other high-tech wizardry.
Altogether, the Parker probe will make 24 close approaches to our star during the seven-year, $1.5 billion journey.
“Wow, here we go. We’re in for some learning over the next several years,” said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.
It was Parker who accurately theorized 60 years ago the existence of solar wind — the supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun and coursing through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on electrical systems on Earth.
This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living person.

As Parker and thousands of others watched, a Delta IV Heavy rocket carried the probe aloft, thundering into the clear, star-studded sky on three pillars of fire that lit up the middle-of-the-night darkness.
NASA needed the mighty 23-story rocket, plus a third stage, to get the Parker probe — the size of a small car and well under a ton — racing toward the sun, 93 million miles (150 million kilometers) from Earth.
A Saturday morning launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble. But Sunday gave way to complete success.
It was the first rocket launch ever witnessed by Parker, a retired University of Chicago professor. He said it was like looking at photos of the Taj Mahal for years and then beholding the real thing in India.
“I really have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched, to thinking about all the interesting things which I don’t know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next five or six or seven years,” Parker said on NASA TV.
Among the mysteries scientists hope to solve: Why is the corona hundreds of times hotter than the surface, which is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit (5,500 degrees Celsius)? And why is the sun’s atmosphere continually expanding and accelerating, as Parker theorized in 1958?
“The only way we can do that is to finally go up and touch the sun,” said project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University. “We’ve looked at it. We’ve studied it from missions that are close in, even as close as the planet Mercury. But we have to go there.”
A better understanding of the sun’s life-giving and sometimes violent nature could also enable earthlings to better protect satellites and astronauts in orbit, along with the power grids so vital to today’s technology-dependent society, said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science mission chief.
Parker, the probe, will start shattering records this fall. On its very first brush with the sun, it will come within 15.5 million miles (25 million kilometers), easily beating the current record of 27 million miles (43 million kilometers) set by NASA’s Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.
By the time Parker gets to its 22nd, 23rd and 24th orbits of the sun in 2024 and 2025, it will be even deeper into the corona and traveling at a record 430,000 mph (690,000 kilometers per hour). Nothing from planet Earth has ever gone that fast.
Even Fox has difficulty comprehending the mission’s derring-do.
“To me, it’s still mind-blowing,” she said. “Even I still go, ‘Really? We’re doing that?’“
The 8-foot (2.4-meter) heat shield will serve as an umbrella that will shade the spacecraft’s scientific instruments, with on-board sensors adjusting the protective cover as necessary so that nothing gets fried.
A mission to get up close and personal with our star has been on NASA’s books since 1958. The trick was making the spacecraft compact and light enough to travel at incredible speeds and durable enough to withstand the punishing environment.
“We’ve had to wait so long for our technology to catch up with our dreams,” Fox said.


Google looking to future after 20 years of search

Updated 24 September 2018
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Google looking to future after 20 years of search

  • Google was launched in September 1998 in a garage rented in the Northern California city of Menlo Park
  • The name is a play on the mathematical term ‘googol,’ which refers to the number 1 followed by 100 zeros

SAN FRANCISCO: Google celebrated its 20th birthday Monday, marking two decades in which it has grown from simply a better way to explore the Internet to a search engine so woven into daily life its name has become a verb.
The company was set to mark its 20th anniversary with an event in San Francisco devoted to the future of online search, promising a few surprise announcements.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin were students at Stanford University — known for its location near Silicon Valley — when they came up with a way to efficiently index and search the Internet.
The duo went beyond simply counting the number of times keywords were used, developing software that took into account factors such as relationships between webpages to help determine where they should rank in search results.
Google was launched in September 1998 in a garage rented in the Northern California city of Menlo Park. The name is a play on the mathematical term “googol,” which refers to the number 1 followed by 100 zeros.
Google reportedly ran for a while on computer servers at Stanford, where a version of the search had been tested.
And Silicon Valley legend has it that Brin and Page offered to sell the company early on for a million dollars or so, but no deal came together.
Google later moved its headquarters to Mountain View, where it remains.
In August 2004, Google went public on the stock market with shares priced at $85. Shares in the multi-billion-dollar company are now trading above $1,000.
Its early code of conduct included a now-legendary “don’t be evil” clause. Its stated mission is to make the world’s information available to anyone.
The company hit a revenue mother lode with tools that target online ads based on what users reveal and let marketers pay only if people clicked on links in advertising.
It has now launched an array of offerings including Maps, Gmail, the Chrome Internet browser, and an Android mobile device operating system that is free to smartphone or tablet makers.
Google also makes premium Pixel smartphones to showcase Android, which dominates the market with handsets made by an array of manufacturers.
Meanwhile, it bought the 18-month-old YouTube video sharing platform in 2006 in a deal valued at $1.65 billion — which seemed astronomical at the time but has proven shrewd as entertainment moved online.
The company also began pumping money into an X Lab devoted to technology “moon shots” such as Internet-linked glasses, self-driving cars, and using high-altitude balloons to provide Internet service in remote locations.
Some of those have evolved into companies, such as the Waymo self-driving car unit. But Google has also seen failures, such as much-maligned Google Glass eyewear.
Elsewhere, the Google+ social network launched to compete with Facebook has seen little meaningful traction.
In October 2015, corporate restructuring saw the creation of parent company Alphabet, making subsidiaries of Google, Waymo, health sciences unit Verily and other properties.
Google is also now a major player in artificial intelligence, its digital assistant infused into smart speakers and more. Its AI rivals include Amazon, Apple and Microsoft.
Despite efforts to diversify its business, Alphabet — which has over 80,000 employees worldwide — still makes most of its money from online ads. Industry tracker eMarketer forecast that Google and Facebook together will capture 57.7 percent US digital ad revenue this year.
In the second quarter of 2018, Google reported profit of $3.2 billion despite a fine of $5.1 billion imposed by the European Union.
Google’s rise put it in the crosshairs of regulators, especially in Europe, due to concerns it may be abusing its domination of online search and advertising as well as smartphone operating software.
There have been worries that Alphabet is more interested in making money from people’s data than it is in safeguarding their privacy.
Google has also been accused of siphoning money and readers away from mainstream news organizations by providing stories in online search results, where it can cash in on ads.
It is among the tech companies being called upon to better guard against the spread of misinformation — and has also been a target of US President Donald Trump, who added his voice to a chorus of Republicans who contend conservative viewpoints are downplayed in search results.