In a historic first, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe ‘touches’ the sun; Provides exciting details | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel | weather.com


The American space agency NASA ends 2021 for space science at a historic high point! For the first time in human history, a spacecraft has just touched our star’s super-hostile environment: the magnificent sun. This historic business belongs to the Parker Solar Probe!

After three years of spiral closer to the Sun, the probe successfully flew into the Sun’s upper atmosphere, the corona. The spacecraft carries the heat using over 4 inch thick carbon composite shields. It is a dream come true for scientists as it took over six decades to achieve this feat.

“Parker Solar Probe ‘touching the sun’ is a monumental moment for solar science and a truly remarkable achievement. This milestone not only gives us deeper insight into the evolution of our sun and its impact on our solar system, but everything we learn about our solar system “own star also teaches us more about stars in the rest of the universe,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA’s headquarters in Washington.

The daring mission worth $ 1.5 billion was launched in 2018 with the aim of studying the Sun closely and understanding its impact on the solar system. NASA announced groundbreaking news at a press conference during the 2021 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting held in New Orleans on Tuesday, December 14th.

How do we know if the spacecraft has touched the Sun?

Artist impression of spacecraft on their way into the Sun.  (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Joy Ng)

Artist impression of spacecraft on their way into the Sun.

(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Joy Ng)

In April 2021, the Parker spacecraft achieved this historic milestone during its eighth bypass of the Sun. Researchers carefully analyzed the data for the next eight months and concluded that the probe had actually crossed the boundary, known as the Alfvén-critical surface.

This point marks the end of the solar atmosphere and the beginning of the solar wind, NASA explains. This is an interface where the solar material turns into solar wind, which flows out over space. The Swedish physicist Hannes Alfvén first assumed this limit in 1942. And finally, Parker’s great achievement proved its existence with empirical evidence!

During April’s flight, which lasted five hours, the spacecraft gained an interesting insight into Alfvén’s critical surface. It ventured in and out of the corona several times and found that the border was not a smooth wall. Instead, it has spikes and valleys that wrinkle the surface. In the coming years, the team is convinced to decode the root causes behind it.

Exciting finds from the nearest by-flight

As the Parker Solar Probe passed through the corona at session nine, the spacecraft flew by structures called coronal streamers.  (NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Naval Research Laboratory)

As the Parker Solar Probe passed through the corona at session nine, the spacecraft flew by structures called coronal streamers.

(NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Naval Research Laboratory)

Flying so close helped Parker solve some of the most annoying problems around the Sun. This mission aims to understand the solar wind and the corona layer, which burn at unimaginably hot temperatures of millions of degrees.

After passing through Alfvén’s critical surface, the spacecraft encountered another peculiar feature of the Sun at 15 solar radii (about 6.5 million miles) from the surface. This feature is known as pseudostreamer, composed of electrically charged material. The environment is reminiscent of the eye of the storm.

The NASA statement explains that these are massive structures that rise above the Sun’s surface and are usually only seen from Earth during solar eclipses.

Ever since its launch, the probe has seemed relentless! The first major revelation from Parker came in 2019. Thorough data analysis revealed the presence of magnetic zig-zag structures in the solar wind, called switchbacks; but how these structures are formed remained a mystery to date.

Now, using this close-up approach, scientists suspect that switchbacks originate from the solar surface.

Why is it important to study these features?

This image represents Parker Solar Probe's distances from the Sun for some of these milestones and discoveries.  (NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center / Mary P. Hrybyk-Keith)

This image represents Parker Solar Probe’s distances from the Sun for some of these milestones and discoveries.

(NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center / Mary P. Hrybyk-Keith)

Just as the landing on the Moon fostered our understanding of the formation of the Earth’s natural satellite, so could our approach to the Sun. The sun is the only known star that supports life in the universe!

NASA highlights that touching the Sun would help gain better insight into how this giant sphere works, which continued to emit charged particles. In addition, experts can learn about how events on the Sun affect the atmosphere, solar wind and space weather.

It is said that the probe is designed to orbit within 3.9 million miles from the Sun’s surface in 2024, which is actually closer to the planet Mercury. Parks will continue to fly past to sample the particles and magnetic fields around the Sun’s upper atmosphere.

“I’m excited to see what Parker finds when it repeatedly passes through the corona in the years to come,” said Nicola Fox, divisional director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA headquarters. “The possibility of new discoveries is limitless.”

The results are published in Physical review letters and can be accessed here.

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