A NASA spacecraft has flown into the sun’s atmosphere for the first time in history


Three years after launch, Parker Solar Probe has finally “touched” the sun.

In April, the probe became the first known spacecraft to soar into the upper atmosphere of our nearest star – known as the corona – where it tested particles and magnetic fields, NASA announced Tuesday.

Not only does this milestone give us deeper insight into the evolution of our sun and [its] affects our solar system, but everything we learn about our own star also teaches us more about stars in the rest of the universe, “Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a press release.

Officials said Parker’s journey into the sun’s atmosphere was intended to create discoveries that were not possible before.

And it has it: NASA scientists used Parker to conclude that some magnetic zigzags in the solar wind, known as “switchbacks,” originate from the sun’s surface. In turn, the solar wind affects the conditions on Earth.

Parker’s first passage through the corona, which lasted a few hours, is, according to NASA, just one of many planned for the mission. The next by-flight is expected to take place in January.

The space administration said that on April 28, Parker crossed Alfvén’s critical surface, where the solar wind ends and the sun’s atmosphere begins.

The solar probe is able to travel so close to the sun – about 6.5 million miles away at a time – because it was designed to withstand temperatures of more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Because solar winds blown from the sun’s atmosphere can reach Earth, scientists say, learning more about it, and other solar phenomena happening 93 million miles away, will help them predict extreme space events that could snag telecommunications on our planet and damage satellites.


A version of this story originally appeared in Morning edition live blog.

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