An artist’s impression of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. Image: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben
The $1.5 billion Parker Solar Probe is heading for its third close flyby of the Sun on 1 September, and officials say the spacecraft is collecting even more data about the solar wind and the physics of the corona than initially expected.
“We’re very happy,” said Nicky Fox, director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC. “We’ve managed to bring down at least twice as much data as we originally suspected we’d get from those first two perihelion passes.”
Launched 12 August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe was released on a trajectory that designed to repeatedly carry it past Venus for gravity-assist flybys that will adjust the spacecraft’s orbit to set up at least seven close passes through the Sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona.
A major mystery the spacecraft’s instruments are expected to help solve is what causes the corona to heat up to millions of degrees when the visible surface of the Sun below is much cooler. Passing within 6.1 million kilometres (3.8 million miles) of the Sun’s visible surface, the Parker probe’s heat shield will endure temperatures up to ...