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