Raumfahrt - NASA Parker Solar Probe Mission Update-3


NASAs Parker Solar Probe starts sun observation marathon


NASA's sun-grazing spacecraft is gathering the most data ever on its upcoming skim past our star, with instruments turned on for nearly two months.

Parker Solar Probe launched in August 2018 for a seven-year mission studying the sun by flying deeper into its outer atmosphere, called the corona, than any previous spacecraft has. When the mission launched, scientists expected the instruments on board to gather data for about 11 days on each flyby.

But the spacecraft has been faring better than expected, and scientists began increasing the duration of observations on successive orbits. And during those extra observations, scientists began seeing very strange phenomena in the stream of charged particles flowing off the sun, called the solar wind, farther away from the sun. Hence the additional extension for this flyby. Observations began on May 9 and will continue through June 28, mission team members said

"We have a real opportunity here to see what's going on in these regions further from the sun's corona," Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a NASA statement

"While our primary goal is to understand the mysteries at the sun's corona and the 'young' solar wind closer to the sun, there is evidence indicating very interesting physics to explore earlier in the orbit and link that to what occurs near the sun," Raouafi said. "We have the capability to gather this data and see what it yields."


So, on this flyby, Parker Solar Probe turned on its instruments while it was still 62.5 million miles (101 million kilometers) away from the sun, or nearly three times more distant than on a typical flyby. Now, scientists have to wait: Parker Solar Probe is pretty taciturn during flybys, and the spacecraft won't send its data home until late summer.


The spacecraft will make its closest approach this orbit on June 7, when it will be about 11.6 million miles (19 million km) away from the sun. As its mission continues, Parker Solar Probe's closest approach will move ever closer to the sun; by the end of the mission, the spacecraft will be just 4 million miles (6 million km) away from our star.


In order to get that close, the spacecraft must make successive loops past Venus, and after next month's closest approach, Parker Solar Probe will do just that on July 11. During that maneuver, the spacecraft's instruments will study Venus, including catching an 11-minute eclipse, according to the statement.

Quelle: SC


Update: 8.06.2020


NASA's Parker Solar Probe flies by the sun in 5th close encounter


NASA's daring Parker Solar Probe made its fifth daring flyby of the sun this weekend.

The spacecraft has been conducting a marathon of solar observations since May 9 as scientists affiliated with the mission look to crack more secrets about how the sun works. The observations will continue until June 28, totaling more than seven weeks of measurements during the probe's fifth swing past the sun.

The closest approach of this orbit, called a perihelion, occurred at 4:23 a.m. EDT (0823 GMT) on Sunday, June 7. At that time, the probe was about 11.6 million miles (18.7 million kilometers) from the sun's surface and was travelling at over 244,000 mph (393,000 km/ph) relative to the sun.

Parker Solar Probe launched in August 2018 on a mission to study the sun's outer atmosphere, called the corona. Parker Solar Probe is outfitted with four different instrument suites to try to solve two key mysteries that the corona poses for scientists who want to understand the workings of our star and others like it.

First, the corona incredibly hot, millions of degrees no matter which scale you use and far hotter than the visible surface of the sun. Scientists want to understand how this region achieves such eye-watering temperatures. Second, the corona serves as a launch pad for the solar wind, the stream of charged particles that flows off the sun and across the solar system. The solar wind reaches incredible speeds in the corona, and scientists also want to understand how that process occurs.


This weekend's fifth perihelion is also the prelude to another intriguing event. On July 10 (July 11 GMT), the Parker Solar Probe will conduct a flyby of Venus. The maneuver is one in a series that is vital to speed the spacecraft up enough to continue creeping toward the sun, giving the probe ever-closer views of the star during perihelion passes.


But the July flyby will also be a prime opportunity to study Earth's neighbor, as the spacecraft will pass just 517 miles (832 km) above the surface of Venus. In particular, this flyby should give scientists vital information about how the atmosphere of Venus dribbles away from the planet in what scientists call its tail. It's the sort of bonus science that missions love.

And the flyby will nudge Parker Solar Probe closer to its main target during subsequent perihelion maneuvers. By the end of the mission, in late 2025, the spacecraft will be soaring just 4 million miles (6 million km) away from the sun's surface

Quelle: SC


Update: 16.06.2020


Solar Orbiter: Europe's Sun mission makes first close pass

Media captionWhat is Solar Orbiter and what's it going to do?

Europe's Solar Orbiter (SolO) probe makes its first close pass of the Sun on Monday, tracking by at a distance of just over 77 million km.

SolO was launched in February and is on a mission to understand what drives our star's dynamic behaviour.

The close pass, known as a perihelion, puts the probe between the orbits of Venus and Mercury.

In the coming years, SolO will go nearer still, closing to within 43 million km of the Sun on occasions.

As it stands today, only five other missions have dived deeper into the inner Solar System: Mariner 10, Helios 1 & 2, Messenger, and Parker Solar Probe.

Earth orbits 149 million km (93 million miles) on average from the Sun.

SolO is a European Space Agency (Esa) craft that was assembled in the UK by the aerospace company Airbus.


It has spent the four months since launch undergoing a checkout phase. Engineers have been running the rule over all the probe's systems and commissioning its 10 scientific instruments.

Routine operations for the full suite of onboard experiments are still a year away, but SolO's magnetometer is up and running and will remain so.

Sitting at the end of a long boom at the back of the spacecraft, the MAG senses the magnetic fields embedded in the solar wind - the stream of charged particles billowing away from the Sun.

Already, the instrument is catching the disturbances that result from big explosions on the star called coronal mass ejections - in addition to the everyday waves and turbulence that trace the wind's structure.

"We switched on, on 24 February - we've already got over 2 billion magnetic field vectors on the ground. We've got a happy, busy science team working away at the data," said Prof Tim Horbury, the MAG principal investigator at Imperial College London.

One of the reasons the British group's instrument got turned on very early was so it could start to characterise the confounding magnetic fields generated by the electronics in the rest of the spacecraft. This signal is small but needs to be subtracted from the Sun measurements to finesse the detail in the data properly.

Media captionProf Lucie Green: "You get explosions and eruptions in the atmosphere of our star"

The early start also gave the London team the chance to do some tandem study with the magnetometer instrument on Esa's BepiColombo mission. As chance would have it, this probe was making a return visit to Earth in April on its way to Mercury. The two missions were therefore able to do some multi-point sensing of the solar wind in relatively close proximity to each other.

The same has been true with the American Parker Solar Probe - but at a much greater separation. This US mission is in the process of making some very deep dives past the Sun (on 7 June it passed just 19 million km from the star).

"We're now just one of a constellation of spacecraft flying around the Sun," Prof Horbury told BBC News.

The next major event for SolO is a flyby of Venus. This occurs at the end of December and will see the probe track about 500,000 km above the planet's surface.

The full science phase of the mission is due to start in 2021 when all 10 of SolO's instruments, including its imagers, will begin regular observations.

"I was so nervous when we launched," said Prof Horbury. "I guess the more you know about a project, the more you know about the things that can go wrong. But Solar Orbiter is out there, it's working and it's going to be a fantastic success."



Solar Orbiter makes closest approach to sun. First spacecraft to be that close with a camera


The European Space Agency and NASA's Solar Orbiter spacecraft made its first closest approach to the sun June 15, 2020. The spacecraft will measure the sun's magnetic fields, waves, energetic particles and plasma escaping the sun while they are still in a pristine state, as well as capturing the first images of the star's poles.

After launching on a 65-million mile journey to the sun from Cape Canaveral last February, the European Space Agency and NASA's Solar Orbiter spacecraft has made its first closest approach to the sun.

On Monday, the spacecraft made its first perihelion — the point in orbit closest to the sun — and reached as close as 48 million miles from the surface, about half the distance between the sun and Earth.

Following the first approach, scientists will use the spacecraft's ten instruments to take close-up images of the sun, marking the first time images of the sun are captured from that distance, according to ESA Solar Orbiter Project scientist Daniel Müller.

“We have never taken pictures of the Sun from a closer distance than this,” Müller said in a release. “There have been higher resolution close-ups taken by the four-meter Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii earlier this year. But from Earth, with the atmosphere between the telescope and the Sun, you can only see a small part of the solar spectrum that you can see from space.”

Solar Orbiter is working with NASA's Parker Solar Probe, which launched in August 2018 from the Cape and will get much closer to the sun. However, that probe does not carry telescopes capable of looking directly at the sun.

"Solar Orbiter won't get as close as Parker Solar Probe but ... it will go over the ecliptic plane (the path of the planets around the sun) and it will have imaging instruments and so we'll be able to look at the sun directly in various wavelengths of light and therefore give us not just pretty pictures, but give us that kind of science that we need to understand the behavior of the sun," Rice University solar physicist David Alexander told FLORIDA TODAY. 

"And because it's going over the ecliptic plane, we'll actually get those images of the poles of the sun which we cannot get from the Earth or from the ecliptic plane spacecraft (like Parker Solar Probe) that was launched in the past. So that's pretty exciting," Alexander said. 

Due to the spacecraft's current distance from Earth, it will take teams about a week to download the images Solar Orbiter takes during its first approach. After the images have been processed, they will be released to the public in mid-July.

"We're going to see the sun like never before," Florida Tech associate professor of physics and space sciences Jean Carlos Perez told FLORIDA TODAY. "These images are going to be remarkable compared to anything we have seen before."

Solar Orbiter is scheduled to make its next perihelion in early 2021 and eventually reach its closest approach about 26 million miles away from the sun in 2022.

Throughout Solar Orbiter's mission, the spacecraft will measure the sun's magnetic fields, waves, energetic particles and plasma escaping while they are still in a pristine state, as well as capturing the first-ever photos of the poles. 

"Being able to look at the sun from a higher latitude effectively gives us a much better perspective of what's going on at the poles, how the magnetic field interacts with the atmosphere of the sun, the plasma and then that translates into a much better understanding of the sun," Alexander said.

More: NASA, Europe Solar Orbiter mission will help protect satellites and astronauts from sun

Doing this will provide scientists with a more complete picture of the sun, which in turn will help them understand how it affects its surrounding environment and be better able to predict when it will release huge amounts of energy.

By knowing further in advance when these catastrophic energy releases occur, scientists can help protect astronauts conducting spacewalks as well as satellites orbiting Earth.

"This is a golden age for heliophysics," Perez said. "Never have we had in history the amount of information that this mission will provide."

Quelle: Florida Today


Update: 11.12.2020


Researchers get a look at the sun's dusty environment


Parker Solar Probe circles in front of the sun in this artist rendering. (Credit: NASA, Johns Hopkins APL, Steve Gribben)

Researchers from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado Boulder are diving into the dusty environment that surrounds the sun—a search that could help to reveal how planets like Earth come into being.

The pursuit comes by way of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe—a pioneering mission that has taken scientists closer to Earth’s home star than any spacecraft to date. Over two years, the probe has circled the sun six times, hitting maximum speeds of roughly 290,000 miles per hour.

In the process, the Parker team has learned a lot about the microscopic grains of dust that lie just beyond the sun’s atmosphere, said David Malaspina, a space plasma physicist at LASP. In new research, for example, he and his colleagues discovered that the densities of these bits of rock and ice seem to vary wildly over the span of months—not something scientists were expecting.

“Every time we go into a new orbit, and we think we understand what we’re seeing around the sun, nature goes and surprises us,” said Malaspina, also an assistant professor in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences.

He presented the group’s results this week at the 2020 virtual fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).



Photos taken by the Parker Solar Probe showing energy from the sun streaming past the spacecraft.

Photos taken by the Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) showing the solar wind streaming past the spacecraft. These flows of energy can carry small grains of dust away from the sun and even out of the solar system entirely. (Credit: NASA/Naval Research Laboratory/Parker Solar Probe)



Malaspina said that dust can give researchers an unexpected, and tiny, window into the processes that formed Earth and its neighboring planets more than 4.5 billion years ago.

“By learning how our star processes dust, we can extrapolate that to other solar systems to learn more about planet formation and how a cloud of dust becomes a solar system,” he said.

Solar Dyson

The area just around the sun, a hot and radiation-rich environment, is often dustier than you might imagine, Malaspina said. It contains more grains of dust by volume than most other open expanses of space in the solar system. That’s because the star, through gravity and other forces, pulls dust toward it from millions to billions of miles away, a bit like a vacuum cleaner.

But this vacuum cleaner is imperfect. As dust particles get closer to the sun, its radiation pushes on them more and more—some of those grains of dust will begin to blow in the other direction and can even fly out of the solar system entirely. The Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) instrument suite onboard the spacecraft found the first evidence for the existence of this dust-devoid region, known as the dust-free zone, more than 90 years after it was predicted.

“What you get is this really interesting environment where all of these particles are moving inward, but once they reach the near-sun environment, they can be blown away,” Malaspina said.

Since launching in 2018, Parker Solar Probe—built and operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, which also leads the mission for NASA—has flown to within about 11.6 million miles of the Sun’s surface.

On each of Parker’s orbits around the sun, the spacecraft collided with thousands of grains of dust. Many of these particles vaporize on the spot, creating a small burst of charged particles that the probe can detect using the five antennae that are part of its FIELDS Experiment. LASP plays an important role in this experiment, which is led by the University of California, Berkeley. Think of it like studying insect populations by counting the splatters on your car’s windshield.

“You get a small puff of plasma,” Malaspina said. “By looking at these spikes, we can understand how many dust impacts we’re getting hit by.”

New mysteries

Malaspina and his colleagues were originally hoping to use those puffs to pinpoint where exactly the solar system’s inward-flying dust becomes outward-flying dust. But they stumbled on something puzzling in the process: The concentrations of dust that the team recorded seemed to vary by as much as 50% between Parker’s six orbits around the Sun. 

“That’s really interesting because the timescale that it takes for dust to move in toward the Sun is thousands to millions of years,” Malaspina said. “So how do we get variation in just three or four months?”

This dusty environment, in other words, may be a lot more complicated and fast-shifting than scientists previously thought. Malaspina said that the team will need to wait for Parker to complete more orbits to know exactly what’s happening. He’s just excited to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to run a finger along the Sun’s dusty shelves.

“This is the only in-situ measurement we are going to get for a long time in the inner solar system,” Malaspina said. “We’re trying to make the best of it and learn as much as we can.”

Quelle: University of Colorado Boulder


Update: 26.02.2021


Parker Solar Probe Offers Stunning View of Venus

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captured stunning views of Venus during its close flyby of the planet in July 2020.


Though Parker Solar Probe’s focus is the Sun, Venus plays a critical role in the mission: The spacecraft whips by Venus a total of seven times over the course of its seven-year mission, using the planet’s gravity to bend the spacecraft’s orbit. These Venus gravity assists allow Parker Solar Probe to fly closer and closer to the Sun on its mission to study the dynamics of the solar wind close to its source.


But — along with the orbital dynamics — these passes can also yield some unique and even unexpected views of the inner solar system. During the mission’s third Venus gravity assist on July 11, 2020, the onboard Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe, or WISPR, captured a striking image of the planet’s nightside from 7,693 miles away. 


When flying past Venus in July 2020, Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR instrument, short for Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe, detected a bright rim around the edge of the planet that may be nightglow — light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere that recombine into molecules in the nightside. The prominent dark feature in the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. Bright streaks in WISPR, such as the ones seen here, are typically caused by a combination of charged particles — called cosmic rays — sunlight reflected by grains of space dust, and particles of material expelled from the spacecraft’s structures after impact with those dust grains. The number of streaks varies along the orbit or when the spacecraft is traveling at different speeds, and scientists are still in discussion about the specific origins of the streaks here. The dark spot appearing on the lower portion of Venus is an artifact from the WISPR instrument.
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher


WISPR is designed to take images of the solar corona and inner heliosphere in visible light, as well as images of the solar wind and its structures as they approach and fly by the spacecraft. At Venus, the camera detected a bright rim around the edge of the planet that may be nightglow — light emitted by oxygen atoms high in the atmosphere that recombine into molecules in the nightside. The prominent dark feature in the center of the image is Aphrodite Terra, the largest highland region on the Venusian surface. The feature appears dark because of its lower temperature, about 85 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) cooler than its surroundings.


That aspect of the image took the team by surprise, said Angelos Vourlidas, the WISPR project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, who coordinated a WISPR imaging campaign with Japan’s Venus-orbiting Akatsuki mission. “WISPR is tailored and tested for visible light observations. We expected to see clouds, but the camera peered right through to the surface.”

A black and white image showing one hemisphere of planet Venus against a backdrop of stars, with bright streaks throughout.
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe had an up-close view of Venus when it flew by the planet in July 2020. Some of the features seen by scientists are labeled in this annotated image. The dark spot appearing on the lower portion of Venus is an artifact from the WISPR instrument. (Click to enlarge.)
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher


“WISPR effectively captured the thermal emission of the Venusian surface,” said Brian Wood, an astrophysicist and WISPR team member from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. “It’s very similar to images acquired by the Akatsuki spacecraft at near-infrared wavelengths.”


This surprising observation sent the WISPR team back to the lab to measure the instrument’s sensitivity to infrared light. If WISPR can indeed pick up near-infrared wavelengths of light, the unforeseen capability would provide new opportunities to study dust around the Sun and in the inner solar system. If it can’t pick up extra infrared wavelengths, then these images — showing signatures of features on Venus’ surface — may have revealed a previously unknown “window” through the Venusian atmosphere.


“Either way,” Vourlidas said, “some exciting science opportunities await us.”


For more insight into the July 2020 images, the WISPR team planned a set of similar observations of the Venusian nightside during Parker Solar Probe’s latest Venus flyby on Feb. 20, 2021. Mission team scientists expect to receive and process that data for analysis by the end of April.


“We are really looking forward to these new images,” said Javier Peralta, a planetary scientist from the Akatsuki team, who first suggested a Parker Solar Probe campaign with Akatsuki, which has been in orbiting Venus since 2015. “If WISPR can sense the thermal emission from the surface of Venus and nightglow — most likely from oxygen — at the limb of the planet, it can make valuable contributions to studies of the Venusian surface.”


Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star program to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. The Living with a Star program is managed by the agency’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Johns Hopkins APL designed, built and operates the spacecraft.

Quelle: NASA


Update: 7.03.2021


Observations Around Solar System With Parker Solar Probe’s 7th Solar Encounter

During Parker Solar Probe’s seventh swing by the Sun, culminating in its closest solar approach, or perihelion, on Jan. 17, 2021, celestial geometry posed a special opportunity. The configuration of this particular orbit placed Parker Solar Probe on the same side of the Sun as Earth — meaning that Earth-bound observatories could observe the Sun and its outpouring of solar wind from the same perspective as Parker’s. This comes on the heels of a similar observation campaign in the winter of 2020.


“Along with the global science community, the Parker Solar Probe team can’t wait to see this new data,” said Nour Raouafi, the Parker Solar Probe project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “Combining it with contributions from observatories around the globe will help us to put Parker observations in a broader context and build a complete picture of the phenomena observed in the solar atmosphere.”


Read on for snapshots from a few missions that observed the Sun and the solar system during Parker Solar Probe’s seventh solar encounter.






Credits: JAXA/NASA/Hinode

These images were captured by the X-ray Telescope, or XRT, aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s and NASA’s Hinode spacecraft. XRT watches the Sun in X-rays, a high-energy type of light that reveals the extremely hot material in the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona. These images from XRT were captured on Jan. 17, when Parker Solar Probe was closest to the Sun. Scientists can use XRT’s images with Parker Solar Probe’s direct measurements of the environment around the Sun to better understand how the Sun’s corona could drive changes in the space environment farther away from the Sun.



Solar Dynamics Observatory




Credits: NASA/SDO

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, keeps a constant eye on the Sun from its vantage point in orbit around Earth. SDO captures images of the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light — a type of light that is invisible to our eyes — and visible light, as well as magnetic maps of the Sun. SDO’s data can help scientists understand the connection between conditions on the Sun and what is measured in the solar wind by spacecraft like Parker Solar Probe.


These images were captured in 211 angstroms, a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light emitted by material at around 3 million degrees Fahrenheit. This wavelength highlights both active regions — seen as bright spots in the image — and coronal holes, areas of open magnetic field on the Sun from which high-seed solar wind can rush out into space. Coronal holes appear as dark areas in this wavelength of light.







Credits: NASA/IRIS

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, captures images of the lower regions of the Sun’s atmosphere in ultraviolet light, along with spectra that break down how much light is visible across different wavelengths. These images, captured on Jan. 17, show an active region on the Sun, an area of intense and complex magnetic fields that is prone to explosions of light and solar material. This particular active region was targeted for IRIS observations based on model predictions that suggested that magnetic field lines from this region could be ones Parker Solar Probe would cross and measure during its solar encounter.


The images cycle through different wavelengths of light — corresponding to views of different heights above the solar surface — to reveal features in various regions of the Sun’s structure. This imagery shows features from the solar surface to a few thousand miles above at the top of the chromosphere, a region of the Sun’s atmosphere that interfaces with the extended solar atmosphere beyond.   






black-and-white map of Sun from GONG data
Credits: Global Oscillation Network Group/National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF

The National Science Foundation’s Global Oscillation Network Group, or GONG, is a network of solar imagers distributed around the globe. They make use of the Zeeman effect — how light splits into multiple wavelengths under the influence of a magnetic field — to create magnetic maps of the solar surface. This video shows GONG’s magnetic maps, updated hourly, from Jan. 12-23, 2021. The black areas represent areas where the magnetic field is pointing in towards the Sun’s surface, and white areas are where the magnetic field is pointing out into space.


As the solar wind streams out from the Sun, it carries the solar magnetic field with it. But identifying precisely which regions on the Sun are the source for solar wind measured by spacecraft like Parker Solar Probe is a challenging task for several reasons: The Sun rotates, solar wind leaves the Sun at varying speeds, and strong magnetic fields near the Sun can change the solar wind’s path as it flows out. 


The Parker Solar Probe team uses GONG’s magnetic maps, along with data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, to make predictions of which regions on the Sun are sending out material and magnetic field lines toward the spacecraft. Drawing these connections between the Sun itself and the solar wind that Parker Solar Probe is measuring directly can help scientists trace how conditions on the Sun propagate out into space.




A trio of NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft — short for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms — orbit Earth to measure particles and electric and magnetic fields in near-Earth space. THEMIS’ data helps researchers untangle the complicated factors that govern the response of near-Earth space to dynamics in Earth’s magnetic field, changes in the Sun’s constantly outflowing solar wind, and activity on the Sun. 


These measurements were taken by THEMIS-E, one of the spacecraft in orbit around Earth, on Jan. 20. It takes about two to three days for solar wind to cross the tens of millions of miles from the Sun to Earth, so the solar wind conditions observed by Parker Solar Probe during its close solar approach on Jan. 17 did not begin to influence near-Earth space until about Jan. 19-20.




Stacked plots of measurements show changing conditions throughout the day

THEMIS-E began the day traveling through the Van Allen radiation belts — concentric bands of charged particles nested in Earth’s magnetic field — as it approached Earth. THEMIS-E then traveled back outward through the radiation belts. Both transits through the radiation belts are reflected in the areas of intense coloring in the lower left part of the plot at the beginning of the day.



Mid-morning, THEMIS-E left Earth’s magnetic field and entered the magnetosheath — the region just outside the outermost Sun-facing boundary of Earth’s magnetic field where solar wind piles up as it collides with Earth’s magnetic field. Throughout the day, gusts in the solar wind temporarily pushed the boundaries of the magnetosphere Earthward, meaning that THEMIS-E repeatedly left and re-entered the magnetosheath. For about 15 hours — until its orbit carried it back into the magnetosphere late in the day — THEMIS-E alternately observed the unperturbed solar wind outside the magnetosheath and piled-up solar wind in the magnetosheath. The undisturbed solar wind observed by THEMIS-E was a bit slower than usual, but also about twice as dense as typical solar wind — observations also confirmed by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer and Wind spacecraft, which orbit further upstream between the Sun and Earth.

Quelle: NASA


Update: 7.05.2021


NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Discovers Natural Radio Emission in Venus’ Atmosphere

During a brief swing by Venus, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe detected a natural radio signal that revealed the spacecraft had flown through the planet’s upper atmosphere. This was the first direct measurement of the Venusian atmosphere in nearly 30 years — and it looks quite different from Venus past. A study published today confirms that Venus’ upper atmosphere undergoes puzzling changes over a solar cycle, the Sun’s 11-year activity cycle. This marks the latest clue to untangling how and why Venus and Earth are so different.


Born of similar processes, Earth and Venus are twins: both rocky, and of similar size and structure. But their paths diverged from birth. Venus lacks a magnetic field, and its surface broils at temperatures hot enough to melt lead. At most, spacecraft have only ever survived a couple hours there. Studying Venus, inhospitable as it is, helps scientists understand how these twins have evolved, and what makes Earth-like planets habitable or not.


On July 11, 2020, Parker Solar Probe swung by Venus in its third flyby. Each flyby is designed to leverage the planet’s gravity to fly the spacecraft closer and closer to the Sun. The mission — managed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland — made its closest flyby of Venus yet, passing just 517 miles (833 km) above the surface.

The data sonification in the video translates data from Parker Solar Probe’s FIELDS instrument into sound. FIELDS detected a natural, low-frequency radio emission as it moved through Venus’ atmosphere that helped scientists calculate the density of the planet’s electrically charged upper atmosphere, called the ionosphere.
Credits: NASA's Scientific Visualization Studio/Mark SubbaRao/Glyn Collinson


“I was just so excited to have new data from Venus,” said Glyn Collinson of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the lead scientist on the study, published today in Geophysical Research Letters. A Venus expert, Collinson has pored over all the Venus data available — from past missions like NASA’s Pioneer Venus Orbiter and ESA’s (the European Space Agency) Venus Express — several times.


One of Parker Solar Probe’s instruments is FIELDS, named for the electric and magnetic fields it measures in the Sun’s atmosphere. For just seven minutes — when Parker Solar Probe was closest to Venus — FIELDS detected a natural, low-frequency radio signal. The thin frown in the data caught Collinson’s attention. The shape and strength of the signal seemed familiar, but he could not place it. “Then the next day, I woke up,” he said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my god, I know what this is!’”


Collinson recognized the signal from his previous work with NASA’s Galileo orbiter, which explored Jupiter and its moons before the mission ended in 2003. A similar frown appeared whenever the spacecraft passed through the ionospheres of Jupiter’s moons.

Like Earth, Venus sports an electrically charged layer of gas at the upper edge of its atmosphere, called the ionosphere. This sea of charged gases, or plasma, naturally emits radio waves that can be detected by instruments like FIELDS. When Collinson and his team identified that signal, they realized Parker Solar Probe had skimmed Venus’ upper atmosphere — a pleasant surprise, though one they might have expected based on previous data, he said.


The researchers used this radio emission to calculate the density of the ionosphere that Parker Solar Probe flew through. Researchers last obtained direct measurements of Venus’ ionosphere from Pioneer Venus Orbiter in 1992. Then, the Sun was near solar maximum, the stormy peak of the solar cycle.

In the years that followed, data from ground-based telescopes suggested big changes were taking place as the Sun settled into its calm phase, solar minimum. While the bulk of the atmosphere remained the same, the ionosphere — which is at the top, where gases can escape to space — was much thinner during solar minimum.


A black and white image showing one hemisphere of planet Venus against a backdrop of stars, with bright streaks throughout.
During its third Venus flyby on July 11, 2020, Parker Solar Probe's WISPR imager captured this view of Venus' nightside from 7,693 miles away.
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Laboratory/Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher


Without direct measurements, it was impossible to confirm.



The observations from Parker Solar Probe’s recent flyby, which occurred six months after the latest solar minimum, verify the puzzle in Venus’ ionosphere. Indeed, Venus’ ionosphere is much thinner compared to previous measurements taken during solar maximum.

“When multiple missions are confirming the same result, one after the other, that gives you a lot of confidence that the thinning is real,” said Robin Ramstad, a study co-author and post-doctoral researcher at the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Understanding why Venus’ ionosphere thins near solar minimum is one part of unraveling how Venus responds to the Sun — which will help researchers determine how Venus, once so similar to Earth, became the world of scorching, toxic air it is today. For example, Venus’ ionosphere is prone to leaking, meaning the escape of energized gases into space. Gathering data on this and other changes in the ionosphere is key to understanding how Venus’ atmosphere has evolved over time.


This study was some 30 years in the making. It took a mission to Venus, and decades later, a state-of-the-art mission to the Sun. “The goal of flying by Venus is to slow down the spacecraft so that Parker Solar Probe can dive closer to the Sun,” said Nour E. Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Applied Physics Laboratory. “But we would not miss the opportunity to gather science data and provide unique insights into a mysterious planet such as Venus.”


Collinson likened the research to hitchhiking. Venus scientists were eager to piggyback off Parker Solar Probe’s flyby for new data and views of Earth’s twin planet. “To see Venus now, it’s all about these little glimpses,” he said.

Quelle: NASA

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