To borrow from singer Paul Simon, these are definitely days of miracles and wonders — at least when it comes to exploring and understanding our Sun.
The Parker Solar Probe has been swinging further and further into the Sun’s corona, having just finished its 12th of 24 descents into a world of super-heated matter (plasma) where no human creation has ever gone.
The probe has dipped as close as 5.3 million miles from the surface of the sun — Mercury is 32 million miles from that solar surface — and is flying through the solar wind, through streamers (rays of magnetized solar material) and even at times through coronal mass ejections, those huge eruptions of magnetized plasma flying at speeds up to nearly 2,000 miles per second.
This is all a goldmine for solar scientists, an opportunity to study our star — and by extension all stars — up close and to learn much more about how it works.
At a four-day conference at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab late last month, scores of scientists described the results of their early observations and analyses of the measurements and images coming from the Parker Probe via its The Wide-Field Imager (WISPR) and instruments that measure energy and magnetic flows. The results have often surprising and, as some scientists said, “thrilling.”
“Parker Solar Probe was developed to answer some of the biggest puzzles, biggest questions about our Sun,” said Nour Raouafi, project scientist for the Parker Solar Probe.
“We have learned so much that we believe we are getting close to finding some important answers. And we think the answers will be quite big for our field, and for science.”
Among the many unexpected solar features and forces detected by the Parker Probe is the widespread presence of switchbacks, rapid flips of the Sun’s magnetic field moving away from the Sun. … Read more