NASA mission scientists have recently been on the receiving end of data gathered by the Parker Solar Probe during its closest-ever solar approach last month. Four researchers with the space agency shared some information about the mission at the 2018 American Geophysical Union meeting today, revealing that they expect to be surprised by some of the probe’s future discoveries, among other things.
NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe back in August, later setting humanity’s newest “closest-approach” to the Sun last month. The spacecraft survived that close approach, which is the first of what will hopefully be many increasingly closer orbits. The previous record was held by the Helios B back in 1976.
The record-breaking solar approach took place on November 8, but NASA researchers have only recently gotten their hands on the data gathered during that event. Humanity has never before been in possession of this information, paving the way for new discoveries and a better understanding of our own star.
Talking about the mission is NASA Heliophysics Division director Nicola Fox, who said, “Heliophysicists have been waiting more than 60 years for a mission like this to be possible. The solar mysteries we want to solve are waiting in the corona.”
The Parker Solar Probe was made with three major questions in mind, according to NASA. The first is how the Sun’s outer atmosphere has much higher temperatures than the visible surface. The second question is how solar wind reaches the speeds scientists have observed it at, and the third is how the Sun’s particles can jettison from the star at more than half the speed of light.
The probe is gathering data that may help answer questions that have puzzled scientists for decades. Using its WISPR suite of tools, the spacecraft will help researchers study young solar wind, while the ISOIS tools will study energetic particle acceleration, for example. The spacecraft is likewise equipped with the hardware necessary to withstand the Sun’s intense heat.