NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is the first spacecraft to 'touch' the sun

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By Leah Crane

Parker Solar Probe adjacent   the sun

An illustration of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Joy Ng

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has reached retired to our prima and touched its atmosphere. On 28 April, it became the archetypal spacecraft to participate the precocious ambiance of the sun, called the corona. This milestone was announced connected 14 December astatine a gathering of the American Geophysical Union successful New Orleans.

The borderline of the sun’s corona is the country of abstraction conscionable acold capable from the sun’s centre that its gravity and magnetic tract are nary longer ascendant and cannot trap worldly connected the star. That bound is called the Alfvén captious surface, which is what the Parker Solar Probe crossed successful April to dip into the corona.

“For centuries, humanity has lone been capable to observe this ambiance from afar. Now… we person yet arrived,” said Nicola Fox, manager of NASA’s Heliophysics Division, successful a property conference. “Humanity has touched the sun.”

The spacecraft entered the corona connected its eighth adjacent walk of the sun, erstwhile it was lone astir 13 cardinal kilometres from the centre of the star. The bound was wiggly, though, and the spacecraft exited aft astir 5 hours, lone to participate and exit the corona doubly much earlier continuing to a much distant portion of its orbit. It whitethorn person passed done again successful August, but that information hasn’t yet been afloat analysed.

Until the probe entered the region, researchers weren’t definite precisely however acold from the prima the Alfvén captious aboveground would beryllium oregon what it would beryllium like, but they knew that its beingness could beryllium measured by changes successful the magnetic tract and a slowing of the star wind beneath the surface. The Parker Solar Probe’s measurements confirmed this, and demonstrated that the captious aboveground wasn’t a creaseless bubble astir the sun, but alternatively a wrinkled edge.

Studying this aboveground could assistance america recognize however the prima spits retired charged particles that tin airs issues for satellites and abstraction explorers, and possibly adjacent foretell those outbursts. It is besides a measurement towards knowing different stars beyond our star system. “These are stellar phenomena, not conscionable star phenomena,” said Parker Solar Probe squad subordinate Kelly Korreck during the property conference.

The probe is planned to proceed circling ever person to the prima good into 2025, repeatedly breaking its ain records for the fastest-moving spacecraft and the closest spacecraft to the sun. Now that we person touched the star, researchers volition support moving to unravel its galore mysteries.

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