NASA’s Parker Solar Probe—the closest-ever spacecraft to the Sun—has beamed back its first observations from the edge of the Sun, unveiling a “spectacular trove” of data on the atmosphere of our star, the US space agency said. The data from the probe, described in four papers in the journal Nature, offers clues to long-standing mysteries, including why the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the corona, is hundreds of times hotter than its surface, as well as the precise origins of the solar wind.
Since its launch in August 2018, Parker Solar Probe has completed three of the 24 planned passes through never-before-explored parts of the Sun’s atmosphere, using cutting-edge scientific instruments to measure the environment around the spacecraft.
These findings reveal new information about the behaviour of the material and particles that speed away from the Sun, bringing scientists closer to answering fundamental questions about the physics of our star, NASA said in a statement.
In the quest to protect astronauts and technology in space, the information Parker has uncovered about how the Sun constantly ejects material and energy will help scientists re-write the models used to understand and predict the space weather around our planet, it said.
The findings will also help understand the process by which stars are created and evolve, according to the US space agency.
“This first data from Parker reveals our star, the Sun, in new and surprising ways,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA.
“Observing the Sun up close rather than from a much greater distance is giving us an unprecedented view into important solar phenomena and how they affect us on Earth, and gives us new insights relevant to the understanding of active stars across galaxies,” Zurbuchen said.
He explained that it is just the beginning of an incredibly exciting time for physics related to Sun, with Parker at the vanguard of new discoveries.