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NASA solar probe officially ‘touches the sun’ and lives to tell the tale

The Parker Solar Probe is visiting an the extraordinarily sizzling surroundings round the solar, referred to as the corona.

NASA GSFC/CIL/Brian Monroe

After spending 990 days rushing by the solar system and zipping round Venus and our dwelling star, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has achieved the headline purpose of its mission: It “touched the solar.”

More particularly, an instrument aboard the probe, which was launched on Aug. 12, 2018, notified scientists again on Earth that the spacecraft had crossed a crucial threshold and was now inside the sun’s corona — a furnace of unfathomable proportions, the place temperatures can attain up to 3 million levels Fahrenheit.

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The announcement was made at the annual assembly of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans on Tuesday.

Michael Stevens, an astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics (CfA), Harvard and Smithsonian, defined that the probe had to cross the Alfvén level, a fuzzy layer the place the sun’s magnetic subject holds the star’s plasma and wind tightly. An instrument on Parker, developed by CfA, decided that Parker had handed the level thrice on April 28 — coming into the corona and high-fiving the solar.

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Parker is a outstanding probe. It’s the quickest laboratory ever constructed, utilizing gravity to swing round Venus and the solar and collect pace throughout its orbit. It’s additionally the closest human constructed object to the solar — its latest closest strategy, in November, put it inside 5.3 million miles of the solar. For reference, Mercury is round six occasions additional away, at 36 million miles.

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There are risks of cozying up to the star. Earlier this yr, scientists working with Parker reported the probe was enduring “plasma explosions” after being bombarded by house mud. Parker has a state-of-the-art warmth defend that retains it from overheating, although the CfA instrument that deemed Parker had touched the solar is uncovered to the components.

Parker Solar Probe
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

Though the solar squeeze is a vital milestone for Parker, there’s nonetheless a lot to study the solar. Parker will proceed to swing by the solar, amassing information from inside the corona about the solar wind and plasma, unravelling a few of the solar system’s massive stellar mysteries. In 2023, it’s going to get even nearer to the star, coming inside simply 4.9 million miles. As lengthy because it survives these plasma explosions, its closest strategy will happen three years from now when it comes inside 4.3 million miles.

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