NASA's Parker Solar Probe spacecraft has finally touched the sun. Researchers say this is the first time a spacecraft has "touched" the sun's upper atmosphere or solar corona to sample particles and their magnetic field.
"The Parker Solar Probe 'touching the sun' is a meaningful moment for solar science and a truly remarkable achievement," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
According to him, this historical record not only provides deeper knowledge about the evolution of the sun and its impact on the Solar System, but everything that is learned about our own star also teaches more about stars in other universes. happened last April, but they only announced it on December 14, 2021 yesterday at the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting 2021 in New Orleans. According to the study published in Physical Review Letters, the Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018 and is getting closer to the sun. The spacecraft managed to reach the sun's corona, where temperatures can reach a million degrees Celsius or even higher. Not only that, the Parker Solar Probe revealed new discoveries about the sun, including the discovery of magnetic zigzag structures in the solar wind called switchbacks in 2019. Now, thanks to Parker's latest close approach to the sun, the spacecraft is helping scientists determine that this transition originates from the sun's surface. The researchers say that before its mission is complete, the Parker Solar Probe will make as many as 21 approaches around the sun over seven years. Then, the probe will orbit more than 6 million kilometers from the sun's surface in 2024, closer than Mercury, the closest planet. from the sun. When closest to the sun, the 11 cm thick carbon-composite heat shield is able to withstand temperatures of around 1,371 degrees Celsius. However, researchers said the interior of the spacecraft and its instruments remained at room temperature. Nour Raouafi, one of the scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said that flying so close to the sun allowed the Parker Solar Probe to experience conditions in the sun's atmosphere layer (corona) like never before.
"We saw evidence (of the plane) being in the corona in the magnetic field data, solar wind data, and visuals in the images," Raouafi said.
"We can actually see the spacecraft fly through the observable coronal structures during a total solar eclipse," he continued.
Mission close to the sun
Initially, the Parker Solar Probe research team observed that their spacecraft had crossed the boundary and entered the sun's atmosphere for the first time in April.
"We fully hope that sooner or later, we'll see the corona at least for a short period of time. It's great that we've reached it (the sun)," said Justin Kasper, lead author of the study and professor at the University of Michigan.
After the spacecraft traverses the solar atmosphere, researchers need several months to analyze the collected data, and confirm that the Parker Solar Probe is indeed crossing a predetermined boundary, namely the Alfvnén surface. Interestingly, during the mission across the sun, the Parker Solar Probe also passed through a pseudostreamer, a large structure above the sun's surface that could previously be observed from Earth during a solar eclipse. The research team explained that when the spacecraft passed the pseudostreamer, the surrounding area became silent like the eye of a storm is a calm-weather area at the center of a tropical cyclone. Through the Parker Solar Probe mission, researchers can explore the sun and find answers that are still a mystery. Including how the sun produces wind, or how the corona can heat up to extreme temperatures that exceed the sun's surface.