Parker Solar Probe

The very last passage of Parker Solar Probe close to the Sun particularly excites astronomers. On Tuesday, September 6 at 06:04 GMT, the probe passed a distance of 8.5 million kilometers from the surface of the Sun during its 13th passage to its perihelion. This passage was distinguished from the previous ones by the fact that our star was particularly active. On its surface, one could observe a task the size of the earthand astronomers have also detected solar flares and geomagnetic storms.

So far, the Parker probe has never witnessed such activity during its passages near the Sun. That is why scientists hope the craft may witness an eruption.

Credits NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

According to Nour Raouafi from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory who is leading the mission, no one has ever flown so close to the Sun during a solar event. He added that the data is going to be completely new and that it will help to learn more about the Sun.

The sun stirs

When the Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018, activities from the Sun were at a minimum. It corresponded to a quiet period during the solar cycle which lasts 11 years. Today, the Sun begins to agitate and heads towards solar maximum which is predicted to be reached in 2025.

The Parker probe will pass another 11 times near the Sun in the future after the last maneuver. Scientists hope that certain passages will coincide with future solar events.

According to Raouafi, when the Sun was calm, we were able to do “great science”. But the view of the solar wind and the corona will now look very different, and scientists say they are curious to see what they will learn.

A unique partnership

For scientists, this perihelion is all the more exceptional since the Parker probe is not the only one to observe the Sun. Indeed, the Solar Orbiterwhich is a project realized thanks to a NASA and ESA collaborationwill observe the Sun at the same time as Parker, but from a distance of 94.1 million kilometers.

Raouafi explains that by combining data from multiple space missions and even ground-based observatories, one can understand the big picture. In this case, with Parker and the Solar Orbiter being at different distances from the Sun, it will be possible to study the evolution of the solar wind. We will be able to collect data during the passage of the latter at the level of Parker then at the level of the Solar Orbiter.


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