Parker Solar Probe reveals more about our Sun. Here’s what it found.

The 2019 Parker Solar Probe mission has provided a wealth of important data about the light of our universe – the sun. The spacecraft made two sweeps past the life-giving star in our galaxy, and scientists are now examining some of the most critical space data ever collated.
Parker Space Probe
The Parker Space Probe has a lengthy mission that will run until 2025. Photo: NASA.

2025 mission

While the Parker Solar Probe has already dug up a lot of important information, it still has several years of its latest mission yet to complete, with NASA intending for its data collection at the sun to continue until 2025. This robotic spacecraft can travel at 690,000 km/h, meaning that it can get closer to the sun that has previously been possible.

Researchers associated with the probe state that data collected by the NASA project will make it possible to delve into two fascinating subjects. Firstly, why does the sun’s outer atmosphere – often referred to as its ‘corona’ – become so much hotter the farther it expands from the sun’s surface? This phenomenon would indeed appear to defy logic.

And what cause the acceleration of the solar wind? This supersonic stream of electrons and other particles can permeate the entire solar system, yet the origin of its acceleration is not currently really understood. Both questions have an impact on how preparations can be made to deal with solar storms and coronal mass ejections, which can effect power grids in particular.

Parker Space Probe
The Parker Space Probe was launched back in August, 2018, with the aim of providing key data on the sun. Photo: Bill Ingalls via Wikimedia.

Three massive orbits

While it is still early days even in this probe of the sun, this has already been a revelatory mission. Nour E. Raouafi, project scientist for the Parker Solar Probe, released a statement on the data collected by the probe so far, in which he commented that “what we’ve learned in just these three solar orbits alone has changed a lot of what we know about the sun.”

It appears from the early data acquired from the Parker Solar Probe that the sun’s rotation or spin on its axis appears to have a much larger impact on the solar wind, and from a further distance away, than was presumed to be the case previously. As the probe has neared the sun, researchers have observed large rotational flows that are around 15 times greater than previous models of the sun have predicted.

This suggests that our previous attempts to understand the sun were fundamentally flawed, and that space weather forecasting going forward will need to take into consideration this new estimation of flows. Furthermore, as more data is collected, the impression that scientists gain of this subject will become more distinct, so further insight will be gained from this.

Parker Space Probe
NASA has high hopes for the Parker Solar Probe mission, and has already gleaned some unique information. Photo: NASA HQ via Flickr.

Magnetic field

The Parker Solar Probe also found that the sun’s magnetic field appears to play a role in this process. As you near the sun, Alfvén waves become apparent, and these have four times the energy of the standard waves around them. These waves create such velocity that they flip the direction of the magnetic field, which then impacts on solar activity and the storms created.

Four new studies have already been published on this data, and its clear that there are many more revelations still to come from the probe’s further 6-year mission.

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