The American space agency NASA says that a spacecraft has entered the extreme atmosphere of the sun for the first time.
The Parker Solar Probe traveled through the outer edge of the solar atmosphere – known as the corona – in April, scientists announced this week. They said it took them a few months to examine the data from the spacecraft and confirm the result.
Unlike Earth, the sun does not have a solid surface. Instead, it is an overheated sphere of material held together by gravity and magnetic forces.
Some solar material escapes and is released into space in what is known as the solar wind. The solar wind is the flow of charged particles, known as plasma, released from the corona into space.
Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018 with a main goal to study the solar wind. Scientists say that being able to study the solar wind and the corona up close can help them better understand how solar activity affects the Earth.
NASA has described the spacecraft’s entry into the outer atmosphere as successfully “touching” the sun.
Nour Raouafi is a project researcher on the mission. He’s at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland. Raouafi called the find “fascinating exciting.”
The spacecraft is now able to sense conditions in the magnetically affected corona for the very first time, Raouafi said.
He added that the evidence used to confirm the results included data on magnetic fields and the solar wind as well as images. “We can actually see the spacecraft flying through coronal structures that can be observed under a total sun eclipsesaid Raouafi.
The researchers reported that Parker was about 13 million kilometers from the center of the sun when it crossed the boundary between the solar atmosphere and the solar wind. They said the spacecraft was able to go in and out of the corona at least three times.
The Parker team said early data also suggested the spacecraft may have entered the corona during its ninth close pass in August. But further investigation is needed to get a confirmation. Researchers said Parker made his 10th closing pass last month.
The spacecraft is expected to continue to get closer to the sun and dive deeper into the corona until its final orbit, scheduled for 2025.
I’m Bryan Lynn.
The Associated Press and NASA reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was editor.
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Words in this story
exciting – adj. extremely interesting
eclipse – n. a situation where the sun is covered by the moon, or the moon is covered by the shadow of the earth