Parker solar probe gets closer to Sun with hopes of feeling the heat
As it made its thirteenth closest approach to the Sun, the Parker Solar Probe drew nearer than ever to the star at the centre of our solar system. Since the probe was launched from Earth in 2018, the Sun has undergone a significant change, making the close approach exciting.
Scientists are excited about the results, noting that Solar Cycle 25 is already exceeding predictions for solar activity, even though the solar maximum isn’t due for another three years. Data from the approach will be processed in due course. A sunspot the size of Earth has grown quickly on the surface of the Sun, which has been humming with activity and erupting several flares.
Planning for the 13th approach, which brought the spacecraft as close to the Sun as 5.3 million miles, took into account the high level of activity.
Since we launched Parker Solar Probe during the solar minimum, when it was very quiet, the Sun has undergone a complete transformation. The environment around the sun changes as the sun itself does. Nour Raouafi, the project scientist for the Parker Solar Probe, provided an update. “The activity at this time is significantly higher than we anticipated. The team is optimistic that the probe would have seen one of these developments on the Sun this time because it has yet to fly through a solar event like a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection (CME) during one of its close encounters.
Raouafi added, “Nobody has ever flown through a solar event so close to the Sun before. The data would be totally new, and we would definitely learn a lot from it.”
The spacecraft has, however, captured a few distant images of CMEs, including five in November 2021, during its tenth encounter with the Sun.
The mission of the probe is to better understand and unravel the physics of the Sun in order to better predict space weather, which can have an impact on astronauts, satellites in space, communications and navigation systems, and other things.
The most recent approach occurs just days after Venus-bound European Solar Orbiter suffered damage from a corona mass ejection. One of the largest eruptions from the Sun’s surface is a coronal mass ejection, and even though the European Space Agency insists that the probe flying near Venus has not been adversely affected, more data is being downloaded for analysis.