NASA’s probe soaring near sun reveals surprises about solar wind

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Numerous data from NASA's close encounters with the sun are giving scientists a unique insight into the solar wind and space weather more generally as the spacecraft passes through the outermost part of the atmosphere. of the star.

Researchers described on Wednesday the first published findings of Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft launched in 2018 to travel closer to the sun than any other man-made object. The findings, offering new insights into how the sun generates space weather, are reshaping astronomers' understanding of the violent solar wind that could damage satellites and electronics on Earth.

"We certainly expected to see new phenomena and new processes when we got close to the sun – and we certainly did," Nicola Fox, director of the US Space Agency's heliophysics division, told reporters. "Some of the information we found pretty much confirmed what we expected, but some is totally unexpected."

The earth is approximately 93 million miles from the sun. The spacecraft ventured less than 24 million kilometers from the sun to gather the data used in studies published in the journal Nature. The spacecraft will eventually travel about 6 million kilometers from the sun's surface, seven times closer than any previous spacecraft.

The spacecraft experienced extreme heat as it flew through the outermost part of the sun's atmosphere, called the solar corona, which gives rise to the solar wind – the charged, energized, hot particles that flow out of the sun and fill the solar system.

The oscillations in the velocity of these charged particles radiating out of the solar corona are thought to dissipate gradually, as do the waves seen after plucking a disappearing guitar string in the middle.

One of the "really big surprises" of the spacecraft, according to one of the researchers, was the detection of sudden and abrupt spikes in solar wind speed that were so violent that the magnetic field reverses, a phenomenon called "reversal." "

"We are discovering these powerful and discreet waves that fall over the spacecraft, like rogue waves in the ocean," said Justin Kasper, principal investigator whose team at the University of Michigan has built a solar wind detection instrument on the Parker spacecraft. "They carry a huge amount of energy."

"This will dramatically change our theories about how the crown and solar wind are being heated," Kasper added.

Joey Roulette reporting; Editing by Will Dunham

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