NASA Makes First Visit to the Solar Atmosphere, Bringing New Discoveries

A spacecraft has reached the Sun for the first time in history. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe now has collected particles as well as magnetic fields throughout the Sun’s upper atmosphere, known as the corona.


The latest achievement is a huge step forward for the Parker Solar Probe as well as a giant leap forward for solar research. Touching the same substance the Sun is composed of will surely help scientists and researchers unearth crucial knowledge about our nearest star and its effect on the solar system, much as moon landing helped scientists better study how it was created. Parker is finding scientific breakthroughs that other spacecraft couldn’t observe because they were too distant away, especially inside the solar wind, which is the flow of atmospheric particles that may affect us on Earth. However, it remained unknown as to how and where they formed. Parker Solar Probe has indeed traveled near enough to pinpoint one spot where they originally come: the solar surface, after halving the range to the Sun ever since. The first flyover into the corona – as well as the promise of many to come – will keep delivering information on processes that are difficult to examine from afar.

Fig. – A spacecraft has reached the Sun for the first time in history. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has now collected particles as well as magnetic fields in the Sun’s upper atmosphere, known as the corona.
(Image Credit – Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng)

Getting Closer Than Ever

Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018 to delve deeper into the secrets of the Sun by journeying closer than any previous mission. Parker has finally come 3 years after its introduction and decades after its creation. The Sun, unlike Earth, does not have a solid structure. It does, however, have a superheated environment consisting of solar material that is gravitationally and magnetically bonded to the Sun. As the material is pushed away from the Sun by increased pressure and heat, it reaches a point when gravity, as well as magnetic fields, is no longer strong enough to retain it.

Into the Fury of the Wind

Parker Solar Probe flew into and out of corona many times throughout the flyby. This shows that the Alfvén critical region is not formed like a smooth ball, as many had assumed. Rather, the surface is wrinkled by spikes and troughs. Scientists will be able to learn more about how activities on the Sun influence the atmosphere as well as solar wind if they can figure out how these protuberances match up with solar activity emanating from the surface.

As the Parker Solar Probe approached 15 solar radii (about 6.5 million miles) from the surface of the sun, it passed through a structure in the corona known as a pseudostreamer. Massive formations that rise just above the Sun’s surface and may be seen from the surface of Earth during solar eclipses are known as pseudostreamers.

It’s like flying further into the eye of a hurricane passing it through pseudostreamer. The circumstances quieted within the pseudostreamer, particles halted, and the number of switchbacks decreased — a stark contrast to the bustling onslaught of particles the spacecraft ordinarily faces in the solar wind. For perhaps the first time, NASA spacecraft encountered an area where the magnetic field lines were powerful enough to control particle movement. Such characteristics proved the spacecraft has passed the Alfvén critical boundary and reached the solar atmosphere, wherein magnetic forces facilitate the flow of everything in the area.

The mission’s first corona crossing, which lasted barely a few hours, will be the first of several planned. Parker would now continue to spiral near the sun, ultimately approaching the surface at a distance of 8.86 solar radii (3.83 million miles). Parker Solar Probe would most certainly pass through the entire corona again during upcoming flybys, and another of which would be scheduled for January 2022.

What is the significance of this corona contact?

During its seventh close encounter with the sun in April, the Parker Solar Probe spent five hours there in corona. The probe’s spiral course brings it near the sun for each revolution, and NASA predicts that it would’ve been regularly close enough to reach the corona “over the last few encounters.” It took many months for scientists to acquire the data as well as analyze it to certify the feat.

The probe’s first contact with the sun is a watershed event in solar research and an incredible achievement. Parker departed from Earth in the year 2018 and traveled a distance of 8 million miles (13 million kilometers) from the sun’s core. At a velocity of 62 miles a second, it entered the solar environment at least 3 times, when temperatures may approach 2 million kelvins.

For the first time in history, a spacecraft has touched the Sun. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has now flown through the Sun’s upper atmosphere – the corona – and sampled particles and magnetic fields there.

What lessons can we take from the sun?

Scientists are hoping to learn more about how solar storms, as well as flares, affect life on Earth. The performance was “fascinatingly amazing,” said to project scientist Nour Raouafi of Johns Hopkins University, who noted that such corona appeared dustier than predicted.

Because the sun lacks a solid surface, astronomers are fascinated by the corona’s electrical field as well as the solar wind it generates. In August, Parker completed its eleventh visit to the sun, and then it will continue watching the star at the heart of the solar system till 2025 when it will complete its last circle.

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