In an unprecedented feat in history, a spacecraft “touched” the Sun. The Parker Solar Probe spacecraft flew through the solar atmospheric layer, called the corona. The announcement was made last Tuesday (14) by NASA (United States Space Agency). According to information from the agency, the probe managed to collect unprecedented information about the star and future discoveries are expected.
“Parker Solar Probe ‘Touching the Sun’ is a monumental moment for solar science and a truly remarkable achievement,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Scientific Mission Directory at NASA’s Washington headquarters.
Zurbuchen also said the event “provides deeper insights into the evolution of our sun and its impacts on our solar system.” Furthermore, he explained that it is possible to learn more details about stars from all over the universe and not just the Sun.
The probe was launched in 2018 with the intention of investigating as yet unknown details about the Sun. Now, Parker has come as close as ever recorded by space expeditions and, even though the flight took only a few hours, it has already been possible to observe phenomena that before they were impossible to verify.
One discovery, for example, was about the magnetic structure of solar winds—the flux of particles that reach Earth even though it is 93 million miles away. According to NASA, in 2018, Parker discovered that these zigzag structures are abundant near the Sun. At that time, however, it was not possible to show their origin. Now, with the proximity that the probe has reached, scientists have realized that the structures originate from the solar surface.
This finding may make it possible, in the future, to understand another question about the Sun: why is the corona much warmer compared to the deeper solar surface?
In addition, scientists also hope that, in the future, it will be possible to discover how magnetic structures form — the new discovery only made it possible to assert their origin, but not how their appearance works.
The expectation is that other Parker space flights will take place soon, allowing for new answers. The next is scheduled for January 2022, but it is not yet certain that the probe will be able to reach the Sun’s atmospheric layer.
“I’m excited to see what Parker finds as it repeatedly goes through the corona over the next few years,” said Nicola Fox, division director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA’s headquarters. “The opportunity for new discoveries is limitless.”