As part of an ongoing effort to unravel the mysteries of how the sun works, NASA’s sun-grazing spaceship is conducting its ninth perilous dive past the neighbourhood star. At 3:10 p.m. EDT (19:10 GMT) on Monday, August 9, the Parker Solar Probe was the closest to the sun during its most recent flyby, when the spacecraft was approximately 6.5 million miles from ssun’s surface. At the time, the investigation was traveling at a speed of around 330,000 miles per hour. In particular, the spacecraft is interested in learning more about how and why the sun’s atmosphere becomes so heated — hundreds of degrees hotter than that of the sun’s surface — as well as the beginnings of the solar wind, which is a steady stream of charged particles that travels across the solar system.
These riddles will be easier to solve when the spacecraft gets closer and closer to the solar system. During the encounter, “we’re focusing on quite a few things,” stated Parker Solar Probe project scientist Nour E. Raouafi, at the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory, in a NASA release. “We’re getting into the key phase of the Parker mission,” Raouafi said.
According to Raouafi, “we anticipate that our spacecraft will be travelling via the acceleration zone of a perpetual stream of charged components that comprise the solar wind at that time.” “Solar activity is also increasing, which is encouraging for researchers who want to investigate larger-scale solar wind formations, such as coronal mass ejections, as well as the energetic particles linked with them,” says Raouafi.
Following Monday’s flyby, the spacecraft maintained its current records — which are also world records for humanity as a whole — for the closest proximity to the sun and quickest-moving object of the spaceship, respectively. Parker Solar Probe, on the other hand, is expected to restart its streak of breaking both marks shortly.
In October, the trip will speed past Venus for the fifth occasion, taking advantage of the planet’s gravity to modify its course through space and get even closer to the sun. The mission is scheduled to launch in October. Following this year’s manoeuvre, the spacecraft is scheduled to make two more flybys of Venus until the conclusion of its current planned operation, which would occur in 2025, according to NASA. By then, the spaceship will be only 3.8 million miles from sun’s surface, putting it close to it. Even though the team behind the Parker Solar Probe does have some predictions for what today’s findings will reveal, it is still viable that the scientists will come upon yet another surprise in the solar environment.
According to Raouafi, “you never know what more you’ll discover while traveling this near to the sun,” which makes it “everything the more thrilling.”