NASA spacecraft “hits” the sun for the first time, plunges into the atmosphere

A NASA spacecraft has officially ‘hit’ the sun, plunging into the uncharted solar atmosphere known as the corona

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla .– A NASA spacecraft has officially “hit” the sun, plunging into the unexplored solar atmosphere known as the corona.

Scientists announced the news Tuesday at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

The Parker solar probe actually flew over the corona in April during the spacecraft’s eighth close approach to the sun. Scientists said it took a few months to retrieve the data, and then several more months to confirm.

“Fascinously exciting,” said Johns Hopkins University Project Scientist Nour Raouafi.

Launched in 2018, Parker was eight million miles from the center of the sun when it first crossed the jagged and uneven border between the solar atmosphere and the outgoing solar wind. The spacecraft has dived in and out of the crown at least three times, each a smooth transition, the scientists say.

“The first and most dramatic time we were down there for about five hours… Now you might think five hours doesn’t sound big,” University of Michigan’s Justin Kasper told reporters. But he noted that Parker was moving so fast. it covered a vast distance during that time, ripping at over 100 kilometers per second.

The crown appeared dustier than expected, according to Raouafi. 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. Because the sun does not have a solid surface, the crown is where the action takes place; Exploring this magnetically intense region up close can help scientists better understand solar explosions that can interfere with life here on Earth.

Preliminary data suggests Parker also dove into the crown during his ninth close-up in August, but scientists said further analysis was needed. He made his 10th closing approach last month.

Parker will continue to move ever closer to the sun and dive deeper into the corona until its final grand orbit in 2025.

The latest findings were also published by the American Physical Society.


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