The Sun is the center of our solar system. We orbit around the Sun and rely on this massive star to provide life-giving energy to Earth. But as much as the Sun is a part of our lives, we know very little about it.
That’s why NASA created the Parker Solar Probe, a specialized craft designed to withstand the Sun’s harsh environment. The goal is to use this probe to gather more data and better understand the center of our lives, the Sun.
What is the Parker Solar Probe?
NASA launched the Parker Solar Probe in August 2018 after years of research, development, and testing. Although NASA has built other probes in the past, the Parker probe was different because it was designed specifically to analyze the Sun.
NASA accounted for the Sun’s extreme environment while designing the probe, building it with a 4.5-inch carbon shield. Thanks to its high-quality construction, the Parker Solar Probe can safely withstand temperatures up to 2,500 degrees.
Onboard the Parker probe are instruments gathering data on the particles, waves, and other factors within the Sun’s environment.
The goal of the Parker probe is to gather data on the outer atmosphere of the Sun, called the corona. The corona’s plasma goes for millions of miles into space, affecting celestial bodies and man-made craft. The probe gathers data about plasma within the corona and transmits it back to Earth for NASA scientists to analyze.
Breaking records, building understanding
The Parker probe has already shattered records and NASA predicts it will continue to do so.
Just 78 days after launching, the Parker probe became the closest man-made object to get near the Sun. It smashed the previous record set in 1976 by getting 3.83 million miles away from the Sun.
In the year since its launch, the probe has done two successful passes around the Sun. The third fly-by happened starting on August 27 and was at its nearest point to the Sun on September 1.
During its seven-year mission, the Parker probe will fly by the Sun at least seven times. In 2024, it will be at its closest point to the Sun, shattering its own record. NASA says the probe will be traveling at 430,000 miles per hour, which will also set the record for the fastest-traveling man-made object.
Gathering data from the Sun
Although the Parker probe is approaching is third fly-by, NASA scientists have just now been able to collect data from its first two passes around the Sun.
NASA predicted that it would be challenging to transmit data from the probe back to Earth, but the transmission worked without any problems.
In May 2019, NASA received 22 GB of data from the probe’s first two passes around the Sun. This was 50% more data than anticipated, which is exciting for NASA’s team.
In fact, the probe gathered so much data that there’s 25 GB more than it needs to transmit back to Earth.
The future of solar analysis
Although NASA is still analyzing this data, it has huge implications for our understanding of the Sun. Scientists are using data gathered from the Parker Solar Probe in conjunction with other satellite data and models to understand the solar environment.
The Sun is the center of life in our solar system, but we still know very little about it. NASA’s exploration into the Sun’s corona with the Parker probe promises to answer our burning questions about the Sun, changing space exploration forever.