NASA’s Parker Solar Probe flew past the Sun’s upper atmosphere

All (enthusiast) eyes are on the launch and latest postponement of the JWST, but there are many other missions that make important contributions to science. One of them is that of NASA Parker Solar Probe which, as we can guess from its name, is designed to study the Sun and discover its secrets. This mission, which began in 2018, is beginning to “live again” observations of our star.

As reported by space agency “For the first time in history, a probe has touched the sun”. It is obviously not “hit” like a human would, but come so close they can walk through theupper atmosphere of the Sun perform scientific measurements. A decidedly difficult undertaking and which is only the beginning of the adventure of american space probe.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe flew over the solar corona

According to the information released, the space probe succeeded in flying through the layer of solar atmosphere called crown sample certain particles and perform detections on magnetic fields.

As also explained Thomas Zurbuchen (associate administrator of NASA), thanks to these operations it is possible to know our Sun, which still hides many secrets, but also to have an idea of ​​the functioning of distant stars present in other solar systems. It is therefore not a question of looking only a few million kilometers from the Earth, but (indirectly) much further.

parker solar probe

Artist’s impression of solar laces

NASA Parker Solar Probe study the solar wind, this flow of particles released by our star that also influences what happens on Earth (and even far beyond). In particular, the probe collected data to understand that certain magnetic structures of the solar wind, called lacenative photosphere. These can be thought of as fluctuations in the solar magnetic field which also affect the movement of the solar wind itself, forming a series of oscillations.

Thanks to the studies on the data collected in recent months, it has been possible to understand that lace they are more abundant than expected, have a higher percentage of helium, and are aligned with gaps between solar convection zones called super granules. Still these areas would give rise to fast solar wind. What is not yet clear is how they form lace. Perhaps they could be generated by plasma waves or during magnetic reconnections, but more data will be needed.

Other NASA Parker Solar Probe discoveries

Thanks to close overflights, it was possible to better define the distance at which Alfvén’s critical surface. Behind this name hides this area in which the sun’s gravity and magnetic fields are too weak to contain the heated solar matter that constitutes it and which thus manages to escape from the star and become solar wind.

Previous estimates had estimated a distance of between 10 and 20 solar radii (7 to 13.9 million km) for this area. Now we know that the Alfvén’s critical surface it is located at 18.8 solar radii, or 13.08 million km from the solar surface. There space probe it passed this zone and thus officially entered the solar atmosphere.

solar coils

The coronal flows (pseudostreamer) seen by the space probe

Know each other better Alfvén’s critical surface, with its non-perfectly spherical structure, will help scientists understand the influence of the Sun’s magnetic field on the outer areas. For example at 15 solar radii the probe crossed a few pseudostreamerstructures where solar particles slow down and gli lace they decrease. Areas then more “calme” than the rest of the solar atmosphere.

parker solar probe

Click on the image to enlarge

In the future the NASA Parker Solar Probe it will go further into the solar atmosphere arriving at 8.86 solar rays (6.2 million km) from area of ​​the sun in 2025. In January 2022, there will be another flyby to collect further data that can be combined with that from missions such as the ESA Solar Orbiter to better understand the star. In addition to purely scientific purposes, as NASA reminded us, knowing our star will also allow us to understand and reduce the damage caused by extreme situations such asCarrington Event of 1859.

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