Nasa has taken the closest image EVER of the sun
Walking on sunshine! Nasa has taken the closest image EVER of the sun with the Parker Solar Probe which is currently 133 MILLION miles closer to the star than we are
- Parker Probe launched in August and is now started beaming images and data
- It will study the atmosphere of the sun to learn more about the star’s formation
- Image was taken from behind a heat shield and Mercury appears as a bright dot
- A ‘coronal streamer’ can be seen streaming across the image in a bright flash
Nasa has taken the closest ever image of the sun in a bid to understand the workings of our star.
The Parker Solar Probe was about 16.9 million miles (27.1 million km) from the Sun’s surface when the image was taken.
This makes the probe 133 million miles (214 million km) closer to the surface of the sun than Earth is – which orbits around 150 million miles (241 million km) away.
Mercury can be seen as a bright blob in the centre of the image and the black dots are said to have been caused by ‘background adjustment’ from the camera.
A coronal streamer – solar material near highly active regions of the sun – can be seen as a flashing streak across the image.
Astronomers are hoping the Parker mission can provide valuable data to help understand the mysterious processes of the sun.
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This image from Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR (Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe) instrument shows a coronal streamer. Nasa said the Parker Solar Probe was about 16.9 million miles from the Sun’s surface when this image was taken. Mercury can be seen in the centre of the image
‘Parker Solar Probe is going to a region we’ve never visited before,’ said Terry Kucera, a solar physicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
‘Meanwhile, from a distance, we can observe the Sun’s corona, which is driving the complex environment around Parker Solar Probe.’
Nasa hopes its Parker Probe can explain three main mysteries that have long confounded scientists.
These include: Why the corona is heated to temperatures about 300 times higher than the surface below, how the solar wind accelerates at such vast speed and how does the sun eject some particles at half the speed of light.
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Parker has only just started beaming data back to scientists back on Earth despite launching back in August.
Parker’s WISPR instrument was pointed sideways from behind the dense heat shield of Parker when it captured the image.
‘We don’t know what to expect so close to the Sun until we get the data, and we’ll probably see some new phenomena,’ said Parker researcher Nour Raouafi.
‘Parker is an exploration mission — the potential for new discoveries is huge.’
Measurements of the sun’s atmosphere from a plethora of scientific measurements will give scientists new tools to discover how how the star operates.
HOW IS THE SOLAR WIND FORMED?
The sun and its atmosphere are made of plasma – a mix of positively and negatively charged particles which have separated at extremely high temperatures, that both carries and travels along magnetic field lines.
Material from the corona streams out into space, filling the solar system with the solar wind.
But scientists found that as the plasma travels further away from the sun, things change.
Views of the solar wind from NASA’s STEREO spacecraft (left) and after computer processing (right). Scientists used an algorithm to dim the appearance of bright stars and dust in images of the faint solar wind
The sun begins to lose magnetic control, forming the boundary that defines the outer corona – the very edge of the sun.
The breakup of the rays is similar to the way water shoots out from a squirt gun.
First, the water is a smooth and unified stream, but it eventually breaks up into droplets, then smaller drops and eventually a fine, misty spray.
A recent Nasa study captured the plasma at the same stage where a stream of water gradually disintegrates into droplets.
If charged particles from solar winds hit Earth’s magnectic field, this can cause problems for satellite and communication equipment.
The solar wind, the Sun’s outflow of material, along with one-off eruptions of solar material called coronal mass ejections carry the Sun’s magnetic field out through the heliosphere, producing space weather effects on Earth
This video clip shows actual data from another NASA spacecraft called Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory Ahead (STEREO-A). It shows Parker Solar Probe flying through the sun’s corona during its first pass in November
Parker Solar Probe will give scientists another new perspective on the Sun and is currently 133 million miles (214 million km) closer to the surface of the sun than planet Earth – which orbits around 150 million miles (241 million km) away
The spacecraft’s ISʘIS suite will also help with understanding the energetic particle acceleration and the FIELDS instrument will detect electrical activity will understand the coronal heating.
Thermal properties of ions ejected from the sun will be studied by the Solar Probe Cup instrument and this, combined with FIELDS, will shed light on the behaviour of the solar wind.
Parker got within 15 million miles (25 million kilometers) of the sun’s surface in November.
Twenty-four such orbits – dipping into the sun’s upper atmosphere, or corona – are planned over the next seven years.
The gap will eventually shrink to 3.8 million miles (6 million kilometers).
The unmanned spacecraft is on an unprecedented quest that will take it straight through the edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, just 3.8million miles from the sun’s surface.
Previously, the closest an aircraft had come to the sun was 27million miles.
This mission will require 55 times more energy than would be needed to reach Mars, according to NASA.
Understanding the solar winds is a key goal of the Parker Solar Probe and this animation is from a model showing how the solar wind flows out from the Sun, with the perspective of Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR instrument overlaid
Flying: At it’s fastest spacecraft went travels at 119miles per second, pictured taking off. At this speed, it would take two minutes to travel from London to New York
HOW WILL THE PARKER SOLAR PROBE GET SO CLOSE TO THE SUN?
The Parker Solar Probe mission will require 55 times more energy than would be needed to reach Mars, according to NASA.
It launched atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, one of the most powerful rockets in the world, with a third stage attached.
But, its trajectory and speed are critical in getting to the correct orbit.
As Earth, and everything on it, are traveling at about 67,000 miles per hour in a direction that’s sideways to the sun, craft must be launched backward to cancel out the sideways motion, NASA explains.
The Parker probe is heading past the sun, so it will need to remove about 53,000 miles per hour, according to the space agency.
The Parker Solar Probe will swing around Venus a total of seven times, with each pass slowing it down some and pushing it closer and closer to the sun. These orbits are shown in the animation above
This will require a boost from the powerful Delta IV rocket, and several gravity assists from Venus to slow it down.
The probe will rely on a series of gravity assists from Venus to slow down its sideways motion, allowing it to get just 3.8 million miles away from the sun’s surface.
‘In this case, rather than speeding up the spacecraft, as in a typical gravity assist, Venus slows down its sideways motion so the spacecraft can get close to the sun,’ NASA explains.
‘When it finally does get close, Parker Solar Probe will have lost much of its sideways speed, but gained a great deal of overall speed thanks to the sun’s gravity.
‘Parker Solar Probe will hurtle past the sun at 430,000 miles per hour.’
At its closest approach, it will get just 3.8 million miles from the surface of the sun, making it the only spacecraft to ever venture so close.
The $1.5billion (£1.17billion) Parker Probe blasted off atop one of the most powerful rockets in the world.
It will eventually hit record-breaking speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour as it completes 24 orbits of the sun over the course of seven years.
At this speed, it would take two minutes to travel from London to New York.
While orbitting the sun, the craft will swing around Venus seven times, using the planet’s gravity to push it closer and closer to our star with each pass; eventually, the Parker probe will get within 3.8 million miles of the sun’s surface.
It made its first fly past Venus in October, and is protected by a revolutionary new heat shield.
It will be subjected to temperatures of roughly 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,371C) when it comes closer to the sun than any spacecraft in history – but, behind its thick heat shield, it will only feel like a hot summer day, with this sheltered region maxing out at about 85F (29C).
The craft is named for Dr Eugene Parker, who first predicted the existence of solar wind back in 1958, and is the only living person to have ever had a NASA mission named for them.
The probe is also towing the names of over 1.1 million people who signed up to have their names sent to the sun.
WHAT IS NASA’S PARKER SOLAR PROBE?
The Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is set to travel seven times closer to the sun than any spacecraft before it
Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is set to travel seven times closer to the sun than any spacecraft before it.
lt launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on August 12 2018.
The probe will fly to the sun’s outer atmosphere to study life of stars and their weather events.
It is hoped that PSP can help scientists to better understand solar flares – brief eruptions of intense high-energy radiation from the sun’s surface that can knock out communications on Earth.
The spacecraft will swoop within 4 million miles (6.5 million km) of the sun’s surface – bringing it seven times closer to the sun’s surface than any spacecraft before it.
The craft will face extremes in heat and radiation and will reach speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 kph) at its closest flyby of the star.
The craft’s kit includes a white light imager called Whisper, which will take images of solar waves as the craft propels through them at high speeds.
To measure the ‘bulk plasma’ of solar winds – described by Nasa as the ‘bread and butter’ of the flares – a set of magnetic imaging equipment will also be stored on board.
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