NASA’s Parker Solar Probe enters the Sun’s atmosphere for the first time

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What is the news?

For the first time in history, NASA’s “Parker Solar Probe” has officially touched the sun. It has flown through the Sun’s upper atmosphere – the corona – and sampled particles and magnetic fields there. 

What is the Parker Solar Probe?

Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018 by NASA.

Aim: Exploring the mysteries of the Sun by travelling closer to it than any spacecraft before.

The spacecraft has been designed to withstand any extreme condition and temperature on the mission. Additionally, the spacecraft’s custom heat shield will help and protect the mission from the Sun’s intense light emission. It will also not allow the coronal material to “touch” the spacecraft.

What has Parker Solar Probe achieved?

Parker Solar Probe has for the first time touched the sun. It is believed that it has crossed the Alfvén critical surface and finally entered the solar atmosphere.

What is Alfvén’s critical surface?

Unlike Earth, the Sun doesn’t have a solid surface. But it does have a superheated atmosphere, made of solar material bound to the Sun by gravity and magnetic forces. However, as rising heat and pressure push that material away from the Sun, it reaches a point where gravity and magnetic fields are too weak to contain it.

This point is known as the Alfvén critical surface. This point basically marks the end of the solar atmosphere and beginning of the solar wind.

Note: Solar wind is a stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona.
What is the significance of this achievement?

This is significant as touching the very stuff the Sun is made of will help scientists uncover critical information about the Sun and its influence on the solar system. 

Moreover, exploring the corona close up can help scientists better understand solar outbursts that can interfere with life here on Earth.

Source: This post is based on the articleNASA’s Parker Solar Probe enters the Sun’s atmosphere for the first timepublished in Indian Express on 15th Dec 2021.

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