CM – NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft enters the solar corona for the first time in history


NASA’s Parker Solar Probe successfully entered the Sun’s corona – an extreme environment around 2 million degrees Fahrenheit.

London: A spacecraft launched by NASA did what was once thought impossible. On April 28, the Parker Solar Probe successfully reached the sun’s corona – an extreme environment with a temperature of about 2 million degrees Fahrenheit.

Scientific paper describing the milestone has been published in Physical Review Letters. The historic moment was reached thanks to a great collaboration between scientists and engineers, including members of the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA), who built and monitored an important instrument on board the probe: the Solar Probe Cup.

The cup collects particles from the solar atmosphere that helped scientists verify that the spacecraft was actually in the corona had penetrated. « The goal of this entire mission is to learn how the sun works. We can do this by flying into the solar atmosphere, » said Michael Stevens, astrophysicist at the CfA who helps monitor the cup.

« The only way to do this is to have the spacecraft cross the outer boundary that scientists call the Alfven Point. So a fundamental part of this mission is to measure whether or not we have crossed this critical point. « 

The corona is the outermost layer of the solar atmosphere, in which strong magnetic fields bind the plasma and prevent the escape of turbulent solar winds. The Alfven point is when solar winds exceed a critical speed and can break free of the sun’s corona and magnetic fields.

Before April 28, the spacecraft had flown just past this point. « When you look at close-up shots of the sun, you sometimes see these bright bows or hairs that seem to peel away from the sun and then reconnect with it, » explained Stevens. « This is the region we flew to – an area where the plasma, atmosphere and wind are magnetically attached and interact with the sun. »

According to the data collected by the Cup, the spacecraft will be in three times on April 28th invaded the corona at one point for up to five hours. CfA astrophysicist Anthony Case, the instrument scientist for the Solar Probe Cup, says the instrument itself is an incredible feat of engineering. « The amount of light that hits the Parker Solar Probe determines how hot the spacecraft gets, » explained Case. « While much of the probe is protected by a heat shield, our beaker is one of only two instruments that stick out and have no protection. It is exposed to direct sunlight and operates at very high temperatures while it is being made. » Measurements; it is literally red-hot, parts of the instrument have a temperature of more than 1,000 degrees Celsius and glow red-orange. « 

 » To avoid deterioration, the device is made of materials with high melting points, such as tungsten, niobium, Molybdenum and sapphire. But the success of the Parker Solar Probe represents a lot more than just technological innovation that scientists hope the probe can help solve. For example, « We don’t really know why the sun’s outer atmosphere is so much hotter than the sun itself, « said Stevens.

 » The sun is 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit [5,500 degrees Celsius], but its atmosphere is about 3.6 million degrees Fahrenheit [2 million degrees Celsius]. « He added, « We know the energy comes from the swirling magnetic fields bubbling through the sun’s surface, but we don’t know how the sun’s atmosphere absorbs that energy. »

« Also, sun bursts like S. Solar eruptions and rapid solar winds have a direct impact on the earth and disrupt power grids and radio communications. The Parker Solar Probe can help to better understand all of these phenomena as they orbit further. ”The sun and take measurements and data that scientists can analyze here on earth. « The plasma around the sun can act as a laboratory that teaches us about processes that take place in almost every astronomical object in the entire universe, » said Case.

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