scorecardHere’s how NASA’s Parker Solar Probe entered Sun’s atmosphere for the first time
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Here’s how NASA’s Parker Solar Probe entered Sun’s atmosphere for the first time

Here’s how NASA’s Parker Solar Probe entered Sun’s atmosphere for the first time
LifeScience2 min read
  • NASA’s Parker Solar Probe crossed the Alfvén critical surface and entered the solar atmosphere in April this year.
  • The Parker Solar Probe was launched into a spiral trajectory around the sun in 2018.
  • The Parker Solar Probe is the closest spacecraft to the Sun ever.
For the first time in human history, a spacecraft has entered the Sun’s outermost layer of the atmosphere called the corona. US-based National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Parker Solar Probe collected particles and sampled the magnetic field of the Sun.

According to the report published by NASA on December 14, the Parker Solar Probe had crossed Alfvén critical surface, the boundary of the Sun's outer layer, for the first time and entered the solar atmosphere on April 28, 2021.

This “remarkable feat” was lauded by Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters who said that the Parker Solar Probe’s findings will help scientists learn more about the Sun, its evolution and the impact on the solar system and that it will teach them about the other stars in the universe.

How did the Parker Solar Probe enter the solar atmosphere?
The Sun is surrounded by a superheated atmosphere, with an outer layer called corona, beyond which material blowing off of the Sun cannot escape, due to its gravity and magnetic pull.

Solar material with speeds enough to breach the corona, just like rockets off Earth’s surface, go into the wider solar system as solar winds. Remote images of the corona helped the scientists estimate its distance to be between 10 to 20 solar radii from the surface of the Sun (approximately 4.3 to 8.6 million miles).

And in 2018, the Parker Solar Probe was launched into a spiral trajectory around the sun that kept getting closer to the Sun’s atmosphere. And on its eight flyby of the Sun, the Parker Solar Probe encountered the specific magnetic and particle conditions at 18.8 solar radii (approx. 8.1 million miles).

Although the first probe lasted only a few hours, it will fly through the Sun’s atmosphere on numerous occasions in the future because of the corona expanding outwards as the 11-year solar cycle picks up.

How did the Parker Solar Probe survive the Sun's heat?
The Parker Solar Probe is the closest spacecraft to the Sun, and it is able to survive the extreme temperatures due to a thermal shield that is made of carbon-composite material, withstanding up to 2,500-degrees fahrenheit or 1,377-degrees celsius.

This shield cuts into the Sun’s heat similar to a racing car cutting into the air. A racing car cutting through the air makes it easier for the one behind it to accelerate as the wind resistance is lowered. Similarly, the thermal shield pushes the heat away, making a manageable temperature for the probe and its instruments.

SEE ALSO:
2021 in space — First space tourists, leaky toilet, film shooting, and more
NASA to launch four Earth science missions in 2022 — All you need to know

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