Written by Atharv Balaji, a grade 5 student.
The Parker solar probe is the first-of-its-kind probe sent by NASA to study the Sun up close. It was launched on 12 August 2018. It will become the closest encounter man has ever had with the Sun!
Before we deep dive into the mission, let us understand some characteristics of the Sun:
The solar wind is a stream of charged particles released by the outer layer of the Sun also called the corona. It contains electrons, protons, etc. with kinetic energy.
This solar wind creates a bubble around the Sun that extends billions of kilometers, beyond the orbits of the planets. This bubble is called the Heliosphere.
The Parker Solar Probe
NASA’s heliophysics group has sent many probes to study the Sun’s effect in the heliosphere, though from afar.
The Parker Solar Probe is the first mission to study the Sun up close. It is named after Dr. Eugene Parker, a pioneer in the study of the Sun who theorized about the existence of solar wind.
Parker probe will fly 7 times closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft and over 7 years it will finish 24 orbits around the Sun. The probe will come within 3.9 miles of the Sun at its closest point.
Its cutting-edge technology has been designed to face very high temperatures and radiation. The thick, carbon, heat-resistant shield, can withstand up to 2,500 o F while the instruments within remain at room temperature.
We live in the Sun’s atmosphere and therefore it is important for us to study the Sun.
The Parker solar probe’s mission is to study the corona of the Sun, the solar wind with its plasma and particles.
Through this, scientists hope to solve long-standing questions about the Sun such as, why is the corona hotter than the Sun’s surface; how does the solar wind accelerate; what are the sources of high-energy solar particles?
More importantly, the data from this mission will help scientists to understand and predict space weather. Space weather can change the orbits of satellites, interfere with onboard electronics, etc. With this information, we can protect our satellites and astronauts from adverse conditions in the future.
There have been many discoveries made by the Parker probe so far.
For instance, scientists knew that space is full of dust. But Parker Solar Probe gave evidence of a dust-free zone of about 3.5 million miles around the Sun. As the dust gets closer, the Sun vaporizes it.
The probe also noticed a disturbance in the magnetic field of the Sun, making it bend back on itself. These are called switchbacks.
The solar wind has a rough irregular texture and not a continuous flow. Parker noticed small bursts of solar energetic particles. This event has been seen before but never so small. These bursts are high in radiation and studying them will help us protect our technology and astronauts.
As it continues its journey, the Parker Solar Probe will help us learn more about the Sun which can change the way we look at the Sun and space.