Dec 10, 2019

What's next for the Parker Solar Probe

Illustration of the Parker Solar Probe in front of the Sun. Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

A new series of studies based on data beamed back from the Sun-studying Parker Solar Probe could help scientists better predict dangerous space weather.

Why it matters: Streams of charged particles sent out by the Sun create space weather that can affect satellites, electrical grids on Earth and even people in orbit.

  • By learning more about how space weather works, scientists could craft better predictions and keep assets in space and on Earth safer.

Details: A new study published last week as part of a Parker Solar Probe-focused package in the journal Nature is shedding light on why the Sun's atmosphere gets hotter as you move farther from the star's surface.

  • The probe found that strong magnetic waves — called Alfvén waves — in the solar wind near the Sun could help explain that heating.
  • "They [the waves] were organized into these individual, really powerful waves that would wash over the spacecraft," one of the study's authors Justin Kasper, of the University of Michigan, told Axios.
  • While these types of waves have been seen in the solar wind before, finding them organized in such a way was surprising and could help unravel the mystery of the Sun's hot atmosphere with more data.

What's next: The Parker Solar Probe is expected to make 21 more close flybys of the Sun, three of which will bring it just 3.83 million miles from the star's surface, closer than any spacecraft has been before.

  • Mission managers are also gearing up for the probe to make a flyby of Venus this month, giving researchers a new look at the cloud-covered world from relatively close range.
  • Scientists will use the data already gathered by the probe to add more information into models that explain how the solar wind and stellar atmosphere work.

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