Research, Technology

NASA's solar probe Parker Solar Probe touched the star. For the first time in history

It's nice to live in the days of scientific and technicalprogress - right now, literally before our eyes, for the first time in history, a spacecraft has come as close as possible to the Sun. This news is even somehow difficult to believe, because our star is a huge and hot ball, the light from which reaches our skin from a distance of almost 150 million kilometers! And although we know a lot more about the Sun today than we did 100 or 50 years ago, scientists still have many questions about this fireball. The good news is that some of these questions will be answered very soon: Back in April, NASA's Parker probe successfully flew through the solar corona (or upper atmosphere) to sample particles and their magnetic fields. “For centuries, mankind could only observe this atmosphere from afar,” Nicola Fox, director of NASA's heliophysics department, said at a press conference. “Now… we have finally arrived. Humanity has touched the Sun. "

The Orbiter mission started on February 10, 2020, andthe first pictures were taken in July, including the most detailed photographs of our star to date. Read more about how these amazing frames were obtained in the material of my colleague Alexander Bogdanov.

We still do not know why the outer atmosphere of the Sun is a corona, so hot and why the solar wind bursts out of it.

Fire ball

The planet Mercury closest to the Sun is the mostsmall planet of the terrestrial group (it also includes Earth, Venus and Mars). Its dense metal core is covered with a rocky mantle and hard crust. But despite its proximity to the star, Mercury is not the hottest planet in the solar system: surface temperatures can range from 426 degrees Celsius during the day to -178 degrees at night.

In 2018, from the Kourou cosmodrome successfully launchedcarrier rocket "Ariane-5", which launched into space the vehicles of the European-Japanese mission "BepiColombo" for the study of Mercury. You can read more about this exciting event here.

Of course, Mercury is full of mysteries, but even more.secrets hides the sun. By sending a lot of spacecraft to study the planets of the solar system, scientists were finally able to create a probe that literally "touched" the luminary and did not burn out. The Orbiter mission kicked off in February 2020 and has been performing the most sophisticated robotic space exploration ever since.

NASA Solar Parker spacecraft - mission description

The first results of the solar tour werepublished in winter 2019. Thanks to the data obtained, the whole world finally learned that the solar corona releases powerful streams of high-energy particles (solar wind). Moreover, it turned out that the wind is more turbulent near the star than in the vicinity of our planet.

The researchers also drew attention to shifts in the Sun's magnetic field - near the surface of the star it rotates 180 degrees - that's why the solar wind is accelerating to record speeds. The new data seems to be even more startling.

You will find out even more amazing facts about the Sun and other stars of the Milky Way on our channel in Yandex.Zen

Sunny tour

So the Sun is not a solid sphere like oursEarth and it has an area in which tremendous gravity keeps the solar material erupting from fusion. But at a certain distance from the Sun, gravitational and magnetic fields are no longer able to hold this material close. Observations made by the probe on April 28 (when the spacecraft flew past the Sun for the eighth time) show that the spacecraft was the first to penetrate the solar atmosphere, or corona.

Solar crown - the upper, most rarefied and hottest layer of the Sun's atmosphere. The temperature of the corona is on the order of a million kelvin.

It is difficult to underestimate the importance of this event, becauseParker will help scientists uncover unknown and important information about the closest star to Earth, including how the flow of solar particles affects our planet. Fortunately, the problems associated with touching the sun are well documented. So, we know that the closest star to Earth has no solid surface and is described in one NASA video as "a giant ball of hot plasma, which is held together by its own gravity."

Parker withstands extreme temperatures near the solar corona

I wonder what exactly the solar material helpsto form the star's crown - an area significantly hotter than the actual surface of the Sun. The corona temperature at the hottest point can reach 500 thousand degrees Celsius. Some of these hot, fast particles from the corona end up flying out into space in the form of the solar wind.

By the time the solar wind reachesthe surface of the Earth, located at a distance of 150 million kilometers, it turns into a ruthless headwind of particles and magnetic fields, experts say.

Experts have tried to predict for a long timespace weather events due to the harsh environment around the sun. Scientists have also tried to find out more about a boundary called the Alfvén critical surface, which marks the end of the solar atmosphere and the beginning of the solar wind.

Interesting fact
The Orbiter mission has been in preparation for over 60 years.Let us also remind that the missions of Parker and Solar Orbiter should not be confused, since the first device is not equipped with cameras, and the second will eventually approach the Sun at a distance of 42 million kilometers.

A lifelong mission

In 1958, NASA researchers compileda list of missions, many of which eventually became reality. But to reach the Sun? Hardly. But life is far more interesting than science fiction, and Parker finally entered the solar atmosphere on his eighth flyby of the Sun. For the first time, according to NASA, a spacecraft "found itself in a region where magnetic fields were strong enough to dominate the movement of particles there."

Although it will take months to confirm the data, the conditions detected by the solar probe are the ultimate proof that the spacecraft passed the critical surface of Alfven and entered the sunny atmosphere.

Our possibilities for studying the sun seem to be almost limitless.

"This is real.Parker actually entered the Sun's atmosphere for about five hours. We smiled and tried to keep our mouth shut until we were completely sure of this. The successful flyby will not be the last, as the spacecraft is expected to fly through the corona in January 2022, ”the researchers write.

It is interesting: The sun is 73% hydrogen, 25%helium, and the remaining two percent are oxygen, iron, carbon and other elements. I talked about why our star is the most mysterious body of the solar system here, I recommend reading

Scientists have also paid attention to solarspots that line up with magnetic funnels emanating from the photosphere are called supergranules. This information is incredibly useful for understanding the physics of the sun, as funnels can be found where solar wind particles originate. The surface of the star also turned out to be full of surprises: it is heterogeneous, and probably changes depending on the activity of the solar wind (and depends on the 11-year solar cycle of the Sun).

This illustration shows our solara system suspended in a "bubble" of the protective solar wind known as the heliosphere. Where the sphere ends, harsh cosmic rays collide with our solar system.

Now for the fun part: when Parker flew through the solar atmosphere, he scooped up some plasma into a special device, Faraday cup - metal (conductive) bowl,designed to trap charged particles in a vacuum. In short, as Parker moves closer to the Sun, he is likely to reveal more information about solar phenomena and help people understand and predict extreme space weather events that could disrupt communications and damage satellites around the Earth.

In future missions, the NASA probe is expected to creep even closer to the Sun, approaching the star 6.16 million km from its visible surface, the researchers said.

The magnetic field is not uniform - it is stronger inside the corona than outside

Don't Miss: Why is the Solar Orbiter heading towards the Sun and what discoveries has it already made?

Next flyby of the Parker Solar systemProbe is scheduled for late February 2022. All this time, the device will collect data - before and after approaching the star. But there is something in this mission, perhaps the most important thing - "touching" the Sun and future missions will definitely allow humanity to make mind-blowing discoveries. For the first time in history, our possibilities are endless.