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GreekReporter.comGreek NewsScienceNASA Reaches the Sun's Atmosphere for the First Time

NASA Reaches the Sun’s Atmosphere for the First Time

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe shortly before launching. Credit: NASA, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A spacecraft touched the Sun for the first time in history on Tuesday. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe made it to the Sun’s upper atmosphere, collecting samples of particles and magnetic fields from the star that gives our planet life.

The success of the Parker Solar Probe is the Sun’s equivalent of the Moon landing. The data collected from the Sun is expected to give scientists a radical new understanding of the star and its importance to our solar system.

“Parker Solar Probe ‘touching the Sun’ is a monumental moment for solar science and a truly remarkable feat,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. “Not only does this milestone provide us with deeper insights into our Sun’s evolution and its impacts on our solar system, but everything we learn about our own star also teaches us more about stars in the rest of the universe.”

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe reaches the Sun after three years in space

The Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018 in order to retrieve never-before-seen data from the Sun by reaching its surface. Three years after its initial launch, the probe has finally reached the sun and achieved its mission.

The Sun, of course, does not have a surface comparable to the Earth or even the Moon. Rather, it has a superheated atmosphere, made of material held together by gravity and magnetism. As temperatures and pressures rise, the material is flung away from the Sun as it becomes too strong to be contained.

This is known as the Alfvén critical surface — the point where the solar atmosphere ends and solar wind begins. The material that passes through this point comprises the solar wind, bringing traces of the Sun’s magnetic field with it as it moves across our solar system. 

Before the Parker Solar Probe, scientists were not certain where the precise location of the Alfvén critical surface was located. Researchers depended on remote images of the Sun’s corona, and made estimates based on that data — locating the point between 4.3 to 8.6 million miles from the Sun’s surface.

The probe spiraled closer to the Sun as it made consecutive passes around the star, getting closer and closer to reaching the Alfvén point. On April 28, 2021, Parker detected the magnetic and particle conditions of the Sun’s atmosphere 8.1 million miles above the Sun’s surface.

“Flying so close to the Sun, Parker Solar Probe now senses conditions in the magnetically dominated layer of the solar atmosphere – the corona – that we never could before,” said Nour Raouafi, the Parker project scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

“We see evidence of being in the corona in magnetic field data, solar wind data, and visually in images. We can actually see the spacecraft flying through coronal structures that can be observed during a total solar eclipse.”

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