In 1958, humanity successfully sent Luna 1 to The Moon, the first vessel to enter the object’s vicinity. Now, 63 years after that historic event, NASA's Parker Solar Probe has done what many believed to be impossible; it’s touched The Sun.
NASA successfully sends Parker Solar Probe to The Sun
Revealed in a blog post, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has finally managed to bring a vessel close to the heart of our Solar System. While the probe wasn't tasked with landing on the surface of the star, it was able to successfully enter the solar atmosphere.
Upon reaching the star’s corona, the probe was able to sample atmospheric particles for the first time. Additionally, the vessel was able to accurately measure the object’s magnetic fields for further research.
NASA originally launched the probe back in 2018. Since then, the vessel has been traveling towards our system’s star. After three years of travelling, the probe was able to dip in and out of The Sun’s corona multiple times in a single journey.
At its closest point, the probe was able to get just 15 solar radii away from the object’s surface. In other words, we have been able to travel just 6.5 million miles away from the hottest point in our Solar System.
Once there, the probe “transited” through a pseudostreamer. These are bright loop-shaped bits of energy shooting out of the corona. Pseudostreamers connect coronal holes, regions where solar winds escape, together, creating tendrils of solar energy.
What have we learned?
The Solar Parker Probe’s successful trip to The Sun has confirmed a few major theories about the cosmic body. For example, NASA discovered that passing through a pseudostreamer is exactly the same as flying through the eye of a storm.
Additionally, the probe confirmed the distance of The Sun’s Alfvén critical surface, the point where solar material escapes its magnetic field. The Alfvén critical surface was estimated to be 10 to 20 solar radii away from the surface. The Parker Probe reached 15 solar radii.
Furthermore, the probe confirmed that the surface of The Sun isn't a smooth body like many expected. Instead, it's a volatile surface, consisting of spikes and tendrils of solar energy. NASA describes the environment as having “spikes and valleys that wrinkle the surface”.
They're going to get closer
NASA isn't done exploring the The Sun. The Parker Solar Probe is going to get even closer to the star in its next series of flybys. Division director for the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters, Nicola Fox, said: “I’m excited to see what Parker finds as it repeatedly passes through the corona in the years to come. The opportunity for new discoveries is boundless.”
In January 2022, the Parker Probe will get even closer to the star’s surface. The next flyby will see the device reach 8.86 solar radii, 3.83 million miles, from the surface of the cosmic body. Additionally, as The Sun’s solar cycle begins to ramp up, the probe will get even closer over the course of the next 11 years.