NASA's Parker Solar Probe reaches closer to the sun than any other mission, sends back data to help understand origin of solar winds
The data shows that these winds come from a hole in the Sun's corona or the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere and appear to be closer to its equator
NASA's Parker Solar Probe has gone where no other object from Earth has ventured before -- not once but thrice. In doing so, it has collected a huge chunk of data that can shape our understanding of the mysterious aspects of the sun.
One of the goals behind launching the probe in 2018 was to understand what drives solar winds: the particles from the sun that could knock out satellites and electrical grids or endanger the health of astronauts in orbit. Now, scientists may be able to bank on the information from the probe to prevent such mishaps.
New measurements from the probe showed that the solar wind originates from holes that appear closer to the Sun's equator.
Explaining the importance of the findings, Stuart Bale, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of physics and lead author of the study says, "There was a major space weather event in 1859 that blew out telegraph networks on Earth and one in 1972 that set off naval mines in North Vietnam, just from the electrical currents generated by the solar storm."
Now, we have entered a more technologically advanced society, he adds, making it more relevant than ever to study the extraordinarily complex, big disturbances from the sun.
Until recently, scientists have been studying solar winds from Earth. Observing them at a distance of more than 90 million miles is challenging. Because by the time the solar wind reaches Earth, clues about its origin have been jumbled and become difficult to discern.
But data from Parker Solar Probe has been helpful. Scientists have now successfully traced the origins of the slow solar winds, which move at relatively slow speeds of less than a million miles per hour.
The data shows that these winds, like the fast winds, come from a hole in the Sun's corona or the outermost part of the Sun's atmosphere. "Coronal holes are usually more toward the poles, but there’s one near the equator and slow solar wind appears to be coming from there,” Gregory Howes, also a Parker Solar Probe team member at the University of Iowa told NewScientist. It was earlier shown that faster solar winds, traveling more than a million miles per hour, originate from coronal holes near the poles.
Parker Solar Probe's journey is far from over. It is expected to move close to the Sun to unlock more mysteries about the Sun.
“As we get twice as close again, which we will, and even more than that, are things going to look even stranger and more unexpected? Nobody knows yet,” says Halekas. But it should help us solve some of the sun’s biggest mysteries, Parker Solar Probe team member Jasper Halekas at the University of Iowa told NewScientist.
The study has been published in Nature.