29 January 2019

NASA's Parker Solar Probe Completes First Orbit of the Sun

Intro Copy

In mid-January 2019, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed its first orbit around the Sun. Launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in August 2018, the spacecraft has begun the second of 24 planned orbits. On January 19th, it reached aphelion, the point in its orbit where it was at its farthest distance from the Sun. This historic mission will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun with the probe eventually traveling closer to the star than any other spacecraft before it. In fact, on its final three orbits, the probe will pass within 3.8 million miles of the Sun's surface - more than seven times closer than the current record-holder Helios 2 in 1976. To perform its experiments in such a harsh environment, the spacecraft (which is roughly the size of a small car) is protected from the Sun’s heat and solar radiation by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield that will keep it safe from the 2,500-degree Fahrenheit temperatures it will encounter. During its 7-year mission, the Parker Solar Probe will make several Venus flybys, using the planet's gravity to whip the spacecraft around to increase its velocity and get it closer and closer to the Sun. When the probe performs its closest approach to the star's surface, it will be speeding along at 430,000 miles per hour, setting the record for the fastest-moving object ever made by humans. According to NASA's Nicola Fox, "heliophysicists have been waiting more than 60 years for a mission like this to be possible." Heliophysics is the study of the Sun and how it impacts space near Earth and throughout the solar system. Just weeks after the probe’s first orbit, the science is just making its way into the hands of physicists. They will be studying never-before-seen data from a star. The spacecraft has completed its first encounter with the Sun’s corona, which is where many of the mysteries of the Sun lie. The data received so far already hints at new discoveries. This is the first NASA mission to be named for a living person. In 1958, physicist Eugene Parker wrote a revolutionary paper predicting the heating and expansion of the Sun's corona and theorized the existence of the solar wind. Using its four suites of instruments, the Parker Solar Probe will seek to find the answers to long-standing questions about our star, such as: Why is the corona 300 times hotter than the Sun's surface? What drives the supersonic solar wind? What accelerates solar particles, which reach speeds up to half the speed of light? Early January saw the New Horizon spacecraft flyby of Ultima Thule, which is a billion miles beyond Pluto. In mid-January, the Parker Solar Probe completed its first orbit of the Sun. Now would be a perfect time for educators, librarians and STEM/STEAM program leaders to use eLibrary resources to help students learn about these amazing discoveries from NASA, the John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the Goddard Space Flight Center. Searching in eLibrary is easy, especially if the student uses field codes such as TI for article title in the main search bar. Sample Search: TI(Parker) AND Solar AND Probe. To narrow your search further and retrieve the most up-to-date articles, on the left side of the results page, click either Last 12 months or Last 30 days: Narrowing Your Search Students can keep up with the progress of the Parker Solar Probe by following NASA Sun & Space on Twitter.

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