NASA has just announced the massive success of its Parker Solar Probe space mission, which has been studying our star for three years. This year, the probe flew three times through the newly selected probe border The solar corona, of which the November flight was the first in the history of space exploration.
NASA’s probe flew right after the sun. This is the tenth time
The Parker Solar Probe took off in August 2018 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and has made more passes closer to the sun since November of the same year. Each of the 24 planned perihelion (the largest approximation of the Sun in orbit) aims to collect as much data as possible about the corona – the outer part of our star’s atmosphere. You can read more about the first discoveries here:
There have been 10 of these close-ups since launch, but the last three have been exceptional. NASA just betrayed details them and summed up the success of the mission so far, on the occasion of the meeting of the American Geophysical Union this week.
Parker actually “touched” the sun for the first time. Historic moment
NASA talks about an amazing milestone achieved this year. It is only now, he asserts, that it is actually possible to fly into the solar corona. And that three times – in April, August and November this year. It turns out that we misinterpreted the traditional boundaries of the solar corona and thus the heliosphere.
Only data collected during April Flight He showed that the probe managed to get past the so-called critical surface of Alfvén, or the “limits” of the solar atmosphere. According to NASA’s latest estimates, it extends from about 6.9 million kilometers to about 13.8 million kilometers from the photosphere, the “surface” of the Sun visible to us. Thus, it was established that the critical surface of Alfvén is not completely spherical in shape, but strongly wavy and at different distances from the photosphere.
On April 28, 2021, the Parker spacecraft came close to a distance of 13 million kilometers, effectively entering the heliosphere for the first time in history.
The last trip (on November 21 this year) was even more interesting, because the NASA probe managed to reach a shorter distance from our star. The Parker Solar Probe flew into perihelion in November, less than 8.5 million kilometers from the photosphere. This is the shortest distance from the sun that man-made equipment can reach.
The task of scientists, above all, is to find out why the solar corona is so close. 300 Times hotter than the sun’s photosphere, reaching a temperature of up to two million degrees Celsius. The second aspect is to explain how the solar wind forms and why it accelerates to several million kilometers per hour, but only after leaving the solar corona. For decades, we couldn’t explain what drives it. And this is very important, because, in fact, like a “cloud” of highly charged particles from our star can damage or destroy man-made devices, and above all satellites orbiting the Earth.
The coming years will be more interesting. And even closer
This, of course, is not the end of the Parker Solar Probe mission. This has been planned for more than 7 years, that is, by the end of 2025. Future flights will be even more exciting. The probe will continue to shrink in its orbit around the Sun and at subsequent perihelion it will be closer to the photosphere.
Five close passes in 2023 and 2024 promise to be very interesting, the first of which will occur in September 2023 and the last in September 2024. Each time the Parker spacecraft will fly less than 8 million km from the “surface” of the Sun.
However, we will have to wait for the close-up recordings until December 24, 2024, when the probe will fly a little more than 6 million km from our star. NASA has planned the last such close flight on December 12, 2025. The US space agency hopes that each of them will reveal more fact about our star.
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