NASA's 1st solar probe results unravel Sun's mysteries

Eloise Marshall
December 6, 2019

Researchers at the USA space agency NASA have published their first reports on the Parker Solar Probe's extremely close passes through the sun's uppermost atmosphere, revealing new details about our star that can not be seen from Earth.

NASA is conducting a mission to unlock the mysteries of our sun. However, we still don't know much about the solar winds or their impact on the Earth.

- We had hoped that we would see new phenomena and new processes, when we came so close to the Sun - and we did, indeed, says Nicola Fox, head of Nasa's department of heliofysik.

The discoveries also imply that the solar wind is carrying more energy away from the Sun than expected, so the star's orbit might be decelerating more quickly than earlier believed. However, the Parker Solar Probe calculated it moves at approximately 35 to 50 kilometers per second.

NASA's Parker probe, loaded down with instruments, has taken several passes through the sun's corona, or the uppermost part of its atmosphere, enduring incredible heat and radiation to measure this dynamic and unsafe place where the solar system's weather is created.

One of the "really big surprises" was, according to one of the researchers is a sudden increase in solar winds speed, which was surprisingly violent.

Parker will sweep past Venus on December 26 for the second gravity-assist of the $1.5 billion mission and make its fourth close solar encounter in January.

During its initial flybys, Parker studied the Sun from a distance of about 15 million miles.

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The spacecraft observed some weird spikes in the wind, where particles accelerate and switch the direction of the wind's magnetic field. But as the solar wind changes during its journey to Earth, remote observations have left scientists with many outstanding questions about its origins and behaviours.

"We're finding these discrete, powerful waves that wash over the spacecraft, kind of like rogue waves in an ocean", Kasper explained. NASA said the probe found the first material proof of a long-held theory that space dust gets vaporized into a gas close to the sun, creating a dust-free zone around it.

NASA scientists were eager to learn about what was coming out of the Sun.

Understanding the Sun and its dynamics are crucial for protecting astronauts in space, understanding how these dynamics affect Earth weather, and how to better protect our infrastructure.

The probe is named after US solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker who first developed the theory of solar wind, describing a system of magnetic fields, energetic particles and plasmas that make up the phenomenon. These flips haven't been detected farther out from the Sun and could only be seen by Parker as it passed through the close-in magnetic field.

One other shock, the researchers stated, used to be the mud that peppered the spacecraft in most cases at some level of every cruise-by at perihelion- the level in the orbit where the spacecraft used to be closest to the Sun.

"Releasing this data to the public will allow them not only to contribute to the success of the mission, but also to raise the opportunity for new discoveries to the next level", said Parker Solar Probe Project Scientist Nour E. Raouafi. Parker attended its launch previous year from Cape Canaveral.

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