A new probe built by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) has set off on a journey to the sun to take the first close-up look at the star's polar regions.
The mission is expected to yield insight into how solar radiant energy affects Earth.
The Solar Orbiter spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 4.03am Irish time, 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.
It eventually will reach as close as 41 million km from the sun's surface, or about 72% 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.
Main engine cutoff and spacecraft separation is confirmed! #SolarOrbiter is flying on its own as it heads to space to give us a new perspective on the Sun. Watch our live coverage: https://t.co/W3wMEfPxvB pic.twitter.com/rXFlq9jgKc— NASA (@NASA) February 10, 2020
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.
We have a healthy spacecraft! Congratulations to the @NASA, @esa and @ulalaunch teams on a successful launch of #SolarOrbiter! I'm excited about this incredible mission that will conduct trailblazing science in heliophysics and give us our first images of the Sun’s poles. pic.twitter.com/hTT0r28ZWF— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) February 10, 2020
Solar Orbiter carries ten instruments packed behind a massive 147kg heat shield, three of which will peer through tiny windows to survey how the sun's surface changes over time.