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What Is the Parker Solar Probe?
The Parker Solar Probe became the first human-made spacecraft to successfully reach the outer-most surface of the Sun, called the 'corona,' to study solar activity data, predict accurate weather forecasting, and, most importantly, 'Solar Wind.' NASA announced on December 14, 2021, that the probe reached the Alfvén critical surface of the Sun. The probe flew through the Sun's corona on April 28, 2021.
The Alfvén critical surface is between the end of the solar atmosphere and the beginning of the solar wind. It was the first NASA mission named after the living individual, Eugene Parker, who studied how stars, including our Sun, give off an enormous amount of energy. The probe was designed at Johns Hopkins University and launched on August 12, 2018.
What Is the Parker Solar Probe's Objective?
The main objective of the probe is to collect various information about the surface of the Sun and a detailed perspective about the multiple studies surrounding it.
- To collect the data on solar activity and trace the energy flow at the solar corona and solar wind.
- To measure the corona's temperature and how the solar wind is formed.
- To study the mechanisms that accelerate and transport the energetic charged particles.
- To forecast the significant weather and space events for further studies on the earth.
Parker Solar Probe Design and Engineering
The "solar probe" concept originated sixty years ago, but the crafts manufactured could not withstand the temperature around that time. Due to technological advancement and thermal engineering, the thermal shields of carbon-composite materials around 160 pounds were designed and added to the Parker Solar Probe. These shields are sprayed with a specially formulated white coating to reflect the Sun's radiation. Johns Hopkins University created the design of the probe and tested the thermal protection system.
What Is the Future of the Parker Solar Probe?
The Parker Solar Probe is projected to revolve around the corona of the Sun until the year 2024 and is estimated to reach the surface twenty-one times. After that, the spacecraft will get 3.83 million miles near the surface in the remaining three years, a minimal distance in space, and encounter different small objects like comets and asteroids.
NASA stated that the total expense for the project's development is around 1.5 billion dollars. Observations until now have helped shed light on the dust particles near the Sun, providing more knowledge about the heliosphere for the first time.
Layers of the Sun's Atmosphere
There are four different surfaces of the Sun classified as: 'corona,' 'chromosphere,' 'photosphere,' and 'core.' These parts mainly consist of plasma and charged particles.
- Corona: The corona is the outer-most part of the Sun's atmosphere which consists of a large concentration of energy due to the nuclear fusion between hydrogen and helium atoms. It is challenging to see the corona without any special instruments as it is usually hidden by the bright light of the Sun. But, during the total solar eclipse, it is visible as the moon blocks the shining part of the Sun; the glowing white corona can be seen.
- Chromosphere: The chromosphere is a thin, bright-red layer of the Sun derived from the Greek word 'chromos,' meaning color. The highest emission in the chromosphere is H-alpha emission which is the reason behind its reddish-brown representation. The temperature differs from 6,000-20,000 degrees Celsius, and its edges are covered by jets of dense gas with high magnetic fields defined as 'spicules.'
- Photosphere: It is the visible region of the Sun, where most of the energies are emitted in the form of visible and infrared radiations. The plasma is less dense in this region, and the photons can escape into the space, making it visible. This region is slightly more relaxed than the chromosphere and has a temperature of 5,500 degrees Celsius.
- Core: The core is the central region of the Sun, where the energy is produced through fusion. It is the hottest part of the Sun and the entire Solar system, 'having a temperature of around fifteen million degrees Celsius.' Two spherical shells surround the core. In the first—the 'radiative zone'—the energy is carried outwards by the photons as thermal radiation, and in the second—the 'convection zone'—above the radiative zone, heat moves upward like a boiling pot being heated from the bottom.
2. Goddard space flight center
© 2021 Shubham Kadariya