Here comes the Sun! Parker Solar probe instruments see ‘first light’

These images, taken with the Parker Solar Probe WISPER inner and outer telescopes, show a picture of the universe is about 13 degrees off of that of the Earth.

(NASA/Naval Research Laboratory/Parker Solar Probe)

If Parker Solar Probe is preparing for an unprecedented close-up of the sun, the new spacecraft has sent data at home to show that all is well in the mission. The probe’s instruments showed the band of the Milky way and picked up the evidence of the solar wind, the stream of particles coming from the sun.

The spacecraft will swoop close to the sun in November of 2018, and in the course of seven years and many jobs, will periodically close-ups of the sun and out by Venus multiple times. Parker will come within 4 million miles (6.4 million kilometers) of the sun is at its closest orbit; that is more than eight times closer than the planet Mercury is to the sun.

A great mystery that Parker can help shed light on, so to speak, is the reason why the sun, the corona (or upper atmosphere) is much hotter than the underlying layers. The corona is the temperature ranges of 1.7 million degrees Fahrenheit (1 million degrees Celsius) to more than 17 million degrees F (10 million degrees C), according to the National Solar Observatory. By contrast, the photosphere, or “surface” of the sun reaches roughly 10,000 degrees F (5,500 degrees C). [Photos: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe in the Room]

But in order to examine that phenomenon, Parker’s four instrument suites to work correctly. Fortunately for the mission of the researchers, the first data sent back in the month after the launch it appears that everything works fine.

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“All instruments returned data, which serves not only for calibration, but also captures a glimpse of what we expect that this measure in the neighborhood of the sun to solve the mysteries of the solar atmosphere, the corona,” project scientist Nour Raouafi, which is based on the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Maryland, said in a statement NASA.

Here is what each of the instruments that are returned:

  • WISPR (Wide-Field Imager for Solar Probe): A new image of the two WISPR telescopes caught in a dark part of the Milky way and the star Antares, in the constellation of Scorpio. Eventually, WISPR will send back images of the corona of the sun and other parts of the solar atmosphere.
  • ISʘIS (Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun): This consists of two instruments that measure high-energy particles associated with the activity on the sun such as solar flares or coronal mass ejections of charged particles. The two instruments collected cosmic rays (on the higher end of the energy spectrum) that come from outside of the galaxy, as well as hydrogen and helium particles (on the lower part of the energy of the spectrum). If the instruments are closer to the sun, they are looking for evidence of solar energetic particles.
  • FIELDS (Electromagnetic Fields in the Survey): This instrument will measure magnetic and electric fields in the solar atmosphere to help scientists better understand why the corona is so much hotter than the photosphere. The first data FIELDS sent back was collected when the instrument antennas, attached to a tree, were deployed, shortly after the spacecraft launch. The researchers caught a glimpse of the spacecraft’s own magnetic field during the implementation; the strength of the field dropped off as the boom is extended away from the spacecraft.
  • SWEAP (Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons): This suite has three instruments: a cup for the measurement of the solar wind and two solar probe analyzers that charged particles in the wind. The researchers saw a flurry of solar wind blowing in the cup shortly after they for the first time on the instrument, even though the orientation of the spacecraft was not expected that the proceeds of the measurements. Later on, the analyzers examined the solar wind for short periods of time.
  • You can download all the data from these instruments on this NASA website.

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