The spacecraft, called Solar Orbiter, will travel 93 million miles to the Sun to take the first close-up look at the star’s polar regions
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A new probe built by NASA and the European Space Agency has set off on a blazing hot journey to the sun.
The spacecraft, called Solar Orbiter, will travel 93 million miles to the Sun to take the first close-up look at the star’s polar regions, a mission expected to yield insight into how solar radiant energy affects Earth.
Solar Orbiter lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:03pm ET (04:03 GMT Monday), kicking off a 10-year voyage.
"This was picture perfect. And suddenly you really felt you are connected to the rest of the solar system," Daniel Mueller, a scientist for ESA who worked on the mission, said after lift-off.
The minivan-sized spacecraft will deploy solar panels and antennas before carrying on toward the sun, a trek assisted by the gravitational forces of Earth and Venus.
Solar Orbiter spacecraft launches on ambitious mission to study the Sun’s poles
It eventually will reach as close as 26 million miles from the sun's surface, or about 72 percent of the distance between the star and Earth.
"I have been in solar physics for many years; I just never thought I would actually witness something come to fruition like this and actually launch. It's amazing," said Holly Gilbert of NASA.
Solar Orbiter's primary mission of examining the sun's polar regions will help researchers understand the origins of solar wind, a soup of charged particles highly concentrated at the two poles, which blast through our solar system, affecting satellites and electronics on Earth.
The mission is also expected to glean insight into how astronauts can be protected from radiation in space, which can damage DNA.
Solar Orbiter lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 11:03pm ET (04:03 GMT Monday), kicking off a 10-year voyage
Solar Orbiter carries 10 instruments packed behind a massive 324-pound (147 kg) heat shield, three of which will peer through tiny windows to survey how the sun's surface changes over time.
Gunther Hasinger, Director of Science at the European Space Agency, said: "As humans, we have always been familiar with the importance of the Sun to life on Earth, observing it and investigating how it works in detail, but we have also long known it has the potential to disrupt everyday life should we be in the firing line of a powerful solar storm.
“By the end of our Solar Orbiter mission, we will know more about the hidden force responsible for the Sun’s changing behaviour and its influence on our home planet than ever before.”