NASA’s Parker Solar Probe launched to space, soon becoming the closest-ever spacecraft to the Sun. the parker sheds new light on the sun, With cutting-edge scientific instruments to measure the environment around the spacecraft, Parker Solar Probe has completed three of 24 planned passes through never-before-explored parts of the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona.

These findings reveal new information about the behavior of the material and particles that speed away from the Sun, bringing scientists closer to answering fundamental questions about the physics of our star.

In the quest to protect astronauts and technology in space, the information Parker has uncovered about how the Sun ejects material and energy will help scientists re-write the models we use to understand and predict the space weather around our planet and understand the process by which stars created and evolve.

Parker Solar Probe saw cosmic dust (illustrated here) — scattered throughout our solar system — begin to thin out close to the Sun, supporting the idea of a long-theorized dust-free zone near the Sun. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Scott Wiessinger

This first data from Parker reveals our star, the Sun, in new and surprising ways Researcher, said, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Observing the Sun up close rather than from a much greater distance is giving us an unprecedented view into important solar phenomena and how they affect us on Earth and gives us new insights relevant to the understanding of active stars across galaxies.

It’s the beginning of an exciting time for heliophysics with Parker at the vanguard of discoveries.

Though it may seem placid to us here on Earth, the Sun is anything but quiet. Our star is active, unleashing powerful bursts of light, deluges of particles moving near the speed of light and billion-ton clouds of magnetized material.

All this activity affects our planet, injecting damaging particles into space where our satellites and astronauts, disrupting communications and navigation signals, and even when intense triggering power outages.

It’s been happening for the Sun’s entire 5-billion-year lifetime and will continue to shape the destinies of Earth and the other planets in our solar system into the future.

The Sun has fascinated humanity for our entire existence, Researcher said, project scientist for Parker Solar Probe at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, which built and manages the mission for NASA.

We’ve learned a great deal about our star in the past several decades, but we needed a mission like Parker Solar Probe to go into the Sun’s atmosphere. It’s only there that we can learn the details of these complex solar processes. And what we’ve learned in these three solar orbits alone has changed a lot of what we know about the Sun.

What happens on the Sun is critical to understanding how it shapes the space around us. Most of the material that escapes the Sun is part of the solar wind, a continual outflow of solar material that bathes the entire solar system.

This ionized gas, called plasma, carries with it the Sun’s magnetic field, stretching it out through the solar system in a giant bubble that spans more than 10 billion miles.

Observed near Earth, the solar wind is a uniform flow of plasma, with occasional turbulent tumbles.

But by that point, it’s traveled over ninety million miles and the signatures of the Sun’s exact mechanisms for heating and accelerating the solar wind wiped out. Closer to the solar wind’s source, Parker Solar Probe saw a much different picture a complicated, active system.

Now, I’ve gotten used to it. But when I show colleagues for the first time, they’re blown away. From Parker’s vantage point 15 million miles from the Sun, Bale explained, the solar wind is much more impulsive and unstable than what we see near Earth.

Like the Sun itself, the solar wind made up of plasma, where charged electrons have separated from charged ions, creating a sea of free-floating particles with an individual electric charge.

These free-floating particles mean plasma carries electric and magnetic fields, and changes in the plasma often make marks on those fields.

The FIELDS instruments surveyed the state of the solar wind by measuring and analyzing how the electric and magnetic fields around the spacecraft changed over time, along with measuring waves in the nearby plasma.

These measurements showed quick reversals in the magnetic field and sudden, faster-moving jets of material all characteristics that make the solar wind more turbulent.

These details are key to understanding how the wind disperses energy as it flows away from the Sun and throughout the solar system.

One type of event, in particular, drew the eye of the science teams: flips in the direction of the magnetic field, which flows out from the Sun, embedded in the solar wind. These reversals dubbed switchbacks last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes as they flow over Parker Solar Probe.

Waves have seen in the solar wind from the start of the space age, and we assumed that closer to the Sun the waves would get stronger, but we were not expecting to see them organize into these coherently structured velocity spikes, researcher, principal investigator for SWEAP short for Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

We are detecting remnants of structures from the Sun hurled into space and changing the organization of the flows and magnetic field. This will change our theories for how the corona and solar wind are being heated.

The exact source of the switchbacks isn’t yet understood, but Parker Solar Probe’s measurements have allowed scientists to narrow down the possibilities.

Among the many particles that stream from the Sun is a constant beam of fast-moving electrons, which ride along the Sun’s magnetic field lines out into the solar system.

These electrons always flow along the shape of the field lines moving out from the Sun, regardless of whether the north pole of the magnetic field in that particular region is pointing towards or away from the Sun.

But Parker Solar Probe measured this flow of electrons going in the opposite direction, flipping back towards the Sun showing that the magnetic field itself must be bending back towards the Sun, rather than Parker Solar Probe encountering a different magnetic field line from the Sun that points in the opposite direction.

This suggests that the switchbacks are kinks in the magnetic field localized disturbances traveling away from the Sun, rather than a change in the magnetic field as it emerges from the Sun.

sources/further reading: Nasa goddard