The NASA Parker Solar Probe has made scientific history, becoming the first spacecraft to “touch” the Sun.
A NASA spacecraft has become the first to “touch the Sun”, in what has been described as a “critical moment for solar science”.
Parker Solar Probe was launched three years ago and has just successfully entered the Sun’s upper atmosphere, known as its corona, where it will sample the magnetic fields of particles and stars, CNNReported.
“Parker Solar Probe ‘Touching the Sun’ is a pivotal moment for solar science and a truly remarkable achievement,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.
“Not only does this milestone give us a deeper insight into the evolution of our Sun and[its]effects on our solar system, but what we learn about our own star will also give us a chance to learn more about stars in the rest of the universe.” Teaches more about
The spacecraft crossed the threshold to enter the solar atmosphere for the first time in April, according to research published in physical review paper,
The crossover occurred 8.1 million miles above the Sun’s surface as the spacecraft was making its eighth fly-by.
It was able to slip into the Sun’s corona after recording specific magnetic and particle conditions for a range where the Sun’s solar atmosphere ends and the solar wind begins.
“We were fully expecting that, sooner or later, we would at least be facing corona for the time being,” said lead study author Justin Kasper, a professor at the University of Michigan and deputy chief technology officer at BWX Technologies, Inc. said in a statement.
“It’s so exciting that we’ve already reached this.”
During the April fly-by, the spacecraft rotated in and out of the corona several times over the course of a few hours, allowing researchers to gain a further understanding of the extent.
They discovered the boundary, called the Alfven critical surface, was not smooth and was rather filled with spikes and valleys.
The spacecraft also encountered a feature called a pseudostreamer – a large structure above the surface – as it was 6.5 million miles from the Sun, which could be seen from Earth during a solar eclipse.
The pseudostreamer dramatically slowed down the normal particle storm, making for an unusually quiet ride for the spacecraft.
Parker Solar Probe is expected to fly through Corona again in January during its next fly-by, which is expected to lead to more discoveries.
“I’m excited to see what Parker finds as it repeatedly passes through the corona over the coming years,” Nicola Fox, division director for NASA’s Heliophysics Division, said in a statement. “The opportunity for new discoveries is limitless.”