Recently, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe made its first close pass by the Sun.
• On October 29, 2018 Parker became the closest spacecraft ever to the Sun. It beat the record that was previously set by the Helios 2 in 1976.
• Purpose of the probe: Over duration of seven years, the Parker Solar Probe will help estimate origins of the solar system, the life cycle of stars, as well as the energy patterns of heat and radiation that it emits.
• NASA Parker solar probe: First spacecraft to study a star
• The Parker solar probe, launched on August 11 2018, is a part of NASA’s ‘Living with a Star’ program.
• The mission will intend to create an understanding between the Sun-Earth System and explain certain solar phenomena.
• This probe will attempt to study two sections of the Sun: The corona and its atmosphere.
• Of these, the corona is the outermost extent of the Sun’s atmosphere.
• While the corona cannot be distinguished from a distance, except in instances of a solar eclipse, the Parker solar probe will be able to observe its behavior first-hand and gain important data of its effect on the solar system.
• The solar atmosphere holds clues to the weather patterns on the Sun, as well as the origin of solar winds (a flow of ionized gases from the Sun that streams past Earth at speeds of more than 500 km per second (a million miles per hour)).
• Parker Solar Probe will use Venus gravity during seven flybys over nearly seven years to gradually bring its orbit closer to the Sun.
• This spacecraft is also the first to be named after a living person. The Parker solar probe gets its name from physicist Eugene Parker.
Significance of Studying the Sun and the Solar Wind:
• Phenomena of Star formation: The Sun is the only star we can study up close. By studying this star we live with, we learn more about stars throughout the universe.
• Origin of life: The Sun is a source of light and heat for life on Earth. The more we know about it, the more we can understand how life on Earth developed.
• More light on changes in Space weather: Disturbances in the solar wind shake Earth’s magnetic field and pump energy into the radiation belts, part of a set of changes in near-Earth space known as space weather.
• Space weather can change the orbits of satellites, shorten their lifetimes, or interfere with onboard electronics. Hence, proper understanding of space weather is necessary to protect space assets.
• Understanding space for future space travels: The solar wind also fills up much of the solar system.
– As we send spacecraft and astronauts further from home, the deeper understanding of space is needed.
Living with a Star Program
• It provides missions to improve our understanding of how and why the Sun varies, how the Earth and Solar System respond, and how the variability and response affects humanity in Space and on Earth.
• Parker provided concepts to the energy generating capabilities of stars.
• He coined the term ‘Solar Wind’.
• His theories explain the existence of solar wind, which constitutes a combination of charged particles, as well as electric and magnetic fields.
• In addition, he had postulated that the Sun’s outermost atmosphere, was hotter than the surface itself.
• Many of Parker’s findings have been used to establish modern theories related to the nature and behavior of stars.