Last August, NASA sent a spaceship toward the inner solar system to obtain answers to the mysterious star in the center of our cosmic neighborhood. Now, more than a year later, this tiny robot has begun solving some of the mystery of the behavior of our Sun after venturing closer to our Mother Star than any previously man-made object.
This spaceship is NASA's Parker Solar Probe. A car-sized vehicle that can withstand temperatures in excess of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The various instruments are protected by an extra-hard heat shield that keeps the spacecraft relatively cool as it approaches our mild host star. The Parker solar probe has already come very close to the Sun and is within a radius of 25 million kilometers of the star ̵
Before launching the spaceship, the researchers were particularly interested in learning more about what comes from the sun. Energetic particles and plasma are constantly flowing from the sun – a phenomenon called solar wind. This high-energy material reaches the earth and makes the aurora borealis appear dazzling. If we get too much of that stuff, it can sometimes mess up our spaceship in orbit and even mess up our power grid. There is still a lot we do not know about solar wind, for example, what speeds up this material so much that it can break away from the sun. If we know the origins of the wind, we can better predict how it will affect us here on earth.
The parker suns approaching the Sun for the first time, the researchers learn some surprising things about how the star behaves closer to the sun's surface. The first results and theories are described today in four publications in the journal Nature .
Perhaps the largest finding of the probe is that the sun's magnetic field is much more volatile the closer it is to its surface and changes direction Back and forth. "We did not expect the magnetic field to get very restless," says Szabo. The sun's magnetic field is filled with magnetic forces that move in different directions. And near the sun, the direction of the magnetic field of the star would turn completely 180 degrees at small moments called "sweeping". "That's totally unexpected," says Szabo. "These are significant changes in orientation that we did not expect. So we scratched our heads and said, "Okay, what can it do?"
Szabo estimates that strange magnetic switches are caused by solar wind rays bursting out of the sun. Instead of emanating from the sun in a continuous stream, part of the solar wind exits in spikes or spurts and moves faster than the surrounding medium. These "jet-lets", as Szabo calls them, stretch the magnetic field and cause the magnetic forces to completely reverse. It is possible that these strange magnetic serpentines are the reason that the solar wind is so fast and dissolves from the sun. When the setbacks occur, the magnetic field can rejoin itself and cause massive explosions that shoot particles out of the sun at high speed.
The researchers believe that these solar wind rays eventually run into the solar wind, which has already made its impact on space, balancing and generating the relatively uniform particle flow we see from Earth. Although useful on the basis of the results of the Parker Solar Probe, research is still in its infancy. "Now we are a bit too far out to explain that this is the final answer to that question," says Szabo. "Getting four times closer to the Sun should be the answer to that question."
Researchers discovered many other interesting details from the Parker Solar Probe data, such as: For example, how the solar atmosphere turns closer to the surface and how dust particles spread around the sun – and there's more to look forward to. The path of the Parker solar probe around the sun is steadily decreasing and bringing the vehicle even closer to the center of the solar system in the coming years. The spacecraft occasionally swings past Venus, using the planet's gravity to bring the vehicle closer to the star. At the nearest location, the Parker Solar Probe should be within 4 million miles of the Sun.
Currently, the spacecraft's fourth orbit begins around the Sun, and today's results come only from the vehicle's first orbit. This means there is still much to learn in the coming months and years as the Parker solar probe approaches its burning target. The closer it gets, the more details the scientists will uncover – but it's possible we'll never fully understand why our Sun is the way it is. "I am absolutely confident that we will significantly improve our understanding," says Szabo. "But to explain that nothing goes unanswered, I would hesitate to do so."