NASA‘s Parker Solar Probe is collecting the most information ever on its forthcoming fly by the Sun, with all its instruments active for almost two months. The probe was launched in August 2018 for a seven-year mission analyzing the Sun by getting closer to its outer atmosphere, known as the corona, than any other vehicle has.
When the mission launched, researchers planned to allow the instruments on board to get data for approximately 11 days on each flyby. However, the spacecraft has been covering better than expected, and scientists began increasing the time of observations on successive orbits.
Breaking Down the Mysteries of the Sun
During those additional observations, astronomers spotted some very peculiar phenomena taking place in the stream of charged particles emitted by the Sun, called the solar wind, farther away from the star. Observations began on May 9th and will continue until June 28th, the mission team members stated.
“We have a real opportunity here to see what’s going on in these regions further from the sun’s corona,” Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a NASA statement.
“While our primary goal is to understand the mysteries at the sun’s corona and the ‘young’ solar wind closer to the Sun, there is evidence indicating very interesting physics to explore earlier in the orbit and link that to what occurs near the Sun,” Raouafi said. “We have the capability to gather this data and see what it yields.”
Closest Approach to the Sun
On this flyby, the Parker Solar Probe activated its instruments while it was about 62.5 million miles (101 million kilometers) away from the Sun, or almost three times more distant than on a regular orbit. Now, researchers have to wait as the probe won’t send its data on Earth until late summer.
The spacecraft will carry on its closest approach this orbit on June 7th, when it will be approximately 11.6 million miles (19 million kilometers) away from the Sun. As its mission goes on, Parker Solar Probe’s closest approach will get even closer to the Sun, and by the end of the mission, the vehicle will be only four million miles (six million kilometers) away from the star.
To get this close, however, the spacecraft has to make successive loops past Venus, with the next one on July 11th. During that move, the probe’s instruments will analyze Venus, including capturing an 11-minute eclipse, as per a statement released by NASA.