NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Becomes First Spacecraft To ‘Touch’ the Sun

Sixty years after NASA set the goal, and three years after its Parker Solar Probe launched, the spacecraft has become the first to "touch the sun." CNN World reports: The Parker Solar Probe has successfully flown through the sun's corona, or upper atmosphere, to sample particles and our star's magnetic fields. The announcement was made at the 2021 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in New Orleans on Tuesday, and research from the solar milestone has been published in the Physical Review Letters. The Parker Solar Probe launched in 2018 and set out to circle closer and closer to the sun. Scientists, including the spacecraft's namesake astrophysicist Eugene Parker, want to answer fundamental questions about the solar wind that streams out from the sun, flinging energetic particles across the solar system. The sun's corona is much hotter than the actual surface of the star, and the spacecraft could provide insight about why. The corona is one million degrees Kelvin (1,800,000 degrees Fahrenheit) at its hottest point, while the surface is around 6,000 Kelvin (10,340 degrees Fahrenheit). The spacecraft has already revealed surprising finds about the sun, including the 2019 discovery of magnetic zig-zag structures in the solar wind called switchbacks. Now, thanks to Parker's latest close approach to the sun, the spacecraft helped scientists determine that these switchbacks originate from the solar surface. Before Parker Solar Probe's mission is done, it will have made 21 close approaches to the sun over the course of seven years. The probe will orbit within 3.9 million miles of the sun's surface in 2024, closer to the star than Mercury -- the closest planet to the sun.

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