CAPE CANAVERAL – A NASA spacecraft recently “touched” the sun officially, plunging through the unexplored solar atmosphere known as the corona.
Scientists announced the news in December 2021 at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
During the spacecraft’s eighth close approach to the Sun in April 2021, the Parker Solar Probe actually flew past the corona.
The scientists said it took a few months to retrieve the data and then several months to confirm it.
“Fascinating and exciting,” said project scientist Nour Raouafi, Johns Hopkins University.
Launched in 2018, Parker was 13 million kilometers from the center of the Sun when it first crossed the irregular and uneven boundary between the Sun’s atmosphere and the outgoing solar wind.
According to the scientists, the spacecraft dove in and out of the corona at least three times, each time a smooth transition.
“The first, and most dramatic, time when we were down for about five hours…Now you might be thinking five hours, that doesn’t seem like a lot,” Justin Kasper of the University of Michigan told reporters.
But he noticed that Parker was moving so fast that he had covered an enormous distance during that time, hurtling at more than 100 kilometers per second.
According to Raouafi the corona looked dustier than expected
Future coronal excursions will help scientists better understand the origin of the solar wind, he said, and how it is heated and accelerated in space.
The corona is where the action takes place because the Sun has no solid surface; Exploring this magnetically intense region up close can help scientists better understand solar flares that can affect life on Earth.
Preliminary data suggest Parker also dipped into the corona during its ninth close approach in August 2021, but scientists said more analyzes are needed.
In November 2021, it made its tenth close approach.
Parker will keep drawing ever closer to the sun and diving deeper into the corona until its grand finale orbit in 2025.
The American Physical Society also documented the latest findings.
– RosGwen24 News/ AP