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NASA counts down to launch of first spacecraft to ‘touch Sun’

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NASA counted down Friday to the launch of a $1.5 billion spacecraft that aims to plunge into the Sun’s sizzling atmosphere and become humanity’s first mission to explore a star.

The car-sized Parker Solar Probe is scheduled to blast off on a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida early Saturday.

The 65-minute launch window opens at 3:33 am (0733 GMT), and the weather forecast is 70 percent favorable for takeoff, NASA said.

The probe’s main goal is to unveil the secrets of the corona, the unusual atmosphere around Sun.

Not only is the corona about 300 times hotter than the Sun’s surface, it also hurls powerful plasma and energetic particles that can unleash geomagnetic space storms and disrupt Earth’s power grid.

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“The Parker Solar Probe will help us do a much better job of predicting when a disturbance in the solar wind could hit Earth,” said Justin Kasper, one of the project scientists and a professor at the University of Michigan.

– ‘Full of mysteries’ –

The probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that is just 4.5 inches thick (11.43 centimeters).

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The shield should enable the spacecraft to survive its close shave with the center of our solar system, coming within 3.83 million miles (6.16 million kilometers) of the Sun’s surface.

AFP / Gal ROMAProbing the sun

The heat shield is built to withstand radiation equivalent up to about 500 times the Sun’s radiation here on Earth.

Even in a region where temperatures can reach more than a million degrees Fahrenheit, the sunlight is expected to heat the shield to just around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371 degrees Celsius).

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Scorching, yes? But if all works as planned, the inside of the spacecraft should stay a cooler 85 F (29 C).

The goal for the Parker Solar Probe is to make 24 passes through the corona during its seven-year mission.

“The sun is full of mysteries,” said Nicky Fox, project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

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“We are ready. We have the perfect payload. We know the questions we want to answer.”

– 91-year-old namesake –

The tools on board will measure the expanding corona and continually flowing atmosphere known as the solar wind, which solar physicist Eugene Parker first described back in 1958.

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Parker, now 91, recalled that at first, some people did not believe in his theory.

But then, the launch of NASA’s Mariner 2 spacecraft in 1962 — becoming the first robotic spacecraft to make a successful planetary encounter — proved them wrong.

“It was just a matter of sitting out the deniers for four years until the Venus Mariner 2 spacecraft showed that, by golly, there was a solar wind,” Parker said earlier this week.

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He added that he is “impressed” by the Parker Solar Probe, calling it “a very complex machine.”

Scientists have wanted to build a spacecraft like this for more than 60 years, but only in recent years did the heat shield technology advance enough to be capable of protecting sensitive instruments, according to Fox.

Tools on board will measure high energy particles associated with flares and coronal mass ejections, as well as the changing magnetic field around the Sun.

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“We will also be listening for plasma waves that we know flow around when particles move,” Fox added.

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

When it nears the Sun, the probe will travel rapidly enough to go from New York to Tokyo in one minute — some 430,000 miles (700,000 kilometers) per hour, making it the fastest human-made object.


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MSNBC’s Maddow: Trump is freaking out because of what is about to unspool tomorrow morning

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President Donald Trump is likely trying to use his recent racist attacks on four Congresswomen of color as a means of distracting from two other significant scandals he's facing this week, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow said. Both of the scandals will likely "unspool" Thursday morning in the same New York courthouse.

First, beginning at 10:30 a.m. EST, a judge who has been presiding over the campaign finance case in which Michael Cohen was involved, intends to release information involving who else was named in the case. That investigation is pending, and the judge is releasing the sealed documents that were related to the case.

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‘Names are going to start coming out’: New report says more elites will be exposed in the Epstein case — and ‘DC is on edge’

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Will other powerful people — presumably men — get taken down as a result of the sex trafficking case against Jeffrey Epstein?

That’s the hope of many closer followers of the story, but it’s far from clear what, if any, fallout there will be. Epstein’s connections to Presidents Bill Clinton and Donald Trump have raised suspicions about potential evidence of their wrongdoing, such suspicions remain unproven. Alan Dershowitz has already faced accusations of being involved in Epstein’s crimes, though he denies the charge vigorously.

But a new report from Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman says that “DC is on edge” over the Epstein case, and any elites who have run in his circles could be involved. Dozens of girls, if not more, are believed to be involved in his alleged sex trafficking, and lawyers for some of the women who have accused Epstein are strongly suggesting that other high-profile figures will be implicated.

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Trump drops swear word in North Carolina — before whining he has ‘no friends’ as president

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In a story about how great he is, President Donald Trump told his North Carolina rally audience on Wednesday that a "business person" he knows always hated him. But he's doing well now anyway because of the president's policies.

"He came up to me and I said, 'How are you doing?' Very warm, you know. 'Hey, how are you doing. Let’s get out of here,'" Trump recalled.

"And he said, 'I’m doing good, you are doing good.' I said, 'Yeah.' I said, 'You know, you don’t like me and I don’t like you, I never have liked you, and you have never liked me. But you are going to support me because you are a rich guy, and if you don’t support me, you are going to be so Goddamn poor, you are not going to believe it.'"

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