Sensational photos from space: Parker Solar Probe is the first probe to “touch” the sun!

Nobody has done this trip before!

For the first time in history, our sun received a visit – from the NASA “Parker Solar Probe” probe! It flew into the upper solar atmosphere (also known as corona, Latin for “wreath”), where it “touched” it for the first time and documented swirling particles and magnetic fields. A breakthrough that came at a conference of the American Geophysical Union was presented.

For the probe it was a very hot encounter: The corona has temperatures of an estimated two million degrees and more – while it is significantly “cooler” on the sun’s surface at around 6000 degrees.

Images that the probe took during its flight through the corona have now been published: Shimmering structures can be seen on them, so-called “pseudostreamer”. These are long, glowing rays that emanate from the sun. The probe flew over, under, and around the streamers.

The NASA probe took these photos of the “pseudostreamers”. These are massive structures that rise above the sun’s surface and can even be observed from Earth – during a solar eclipsePhoto: – / dpa

Sonde was on the road for three years

“A probe that touches the sun – a dream has come true,” says project manager Nour Raouafi from Johns Hopkins University.

“Parker Solar Probe” was launched in August 2018 on board a “Delta IV Heavy” rocket from the Cape Canaveral spaceport in Florida in the direction of our central star. In April 2021, it reached its destination, plunging into the sun’s corona at a distance of around 13 million kilometers from the center of the sun, which has a non-uniform structure with peaks and valleys. According to the scientists, the probe has flown in and out at least three times. Speed: around 100 km / h.

It is planned that the probe will approach the sun on further spiral routes – up to the shortest distance of only about 6.2 million kilometers above the sun’s surface. This is planned for 2025.

According to the scientists, the fact that the images have only now been published is due to the fact that the data took several months to get back to Earth. Plus, it took more months to evaluate them. Project manager Raouafi was surprised that it was “dustier” than expected in the corona.

Illustration of the Parker Solar Probe probe.  In contrast to the earth, the sun does not have a solid surface, but a super-hot atmosphere made of solar matter

Illustration of the “Parker Solar Probe” probe. In contrast to the earth, the sun does not have a solid surface, but a super-hot atmosphere made of solar matterPhoto: Steve Gribben / AP

Thick heat shield protects the probe

For the first time, NASA named a probe after a living scientist: astrophysicist Eugene Parker (89), who teaches at the University of Chicago. The probe, which weighs around 700 kilos, is full of high-tech devices and is protected from the extreme temperatures by a special cooling system and a carbon heat shield (twelve centimeters thick, with a reflective ceramic coating). The probe should not heat up more than 30 degrees.

Milestone in solar research

The probe’s contact with the sun was “a monumental moment for solar research and a truly remarkable achievement,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s science director, loudly “”. “This milestone not only gives us deeper insights into the development of our sun and its effects on our solar system. Everything we learn about our own star also teaches us more about the stars in the rest of the universe. “

The researchers hope to find answers to questions such as why the halo around the sun is hotter than its surface, or how the constant flow of particles that we know as solar winds occurs. They can disrupt satellites and even affect power grids and communications systems on earth. The probe is expected to be in use by 2025. (bk)


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