Parker Solar Probe will attempt to solve mystery of Sun's hot corona

NASA's Parker Solar Probe hopes to solve one of astrophysics' long-standing mysteries.
By Tyler MacDonald | Jul 28, 2018
A new landmark NASA mission will see the agency's Parker Solar Probe launch no earlier than August 11, 2018 to determine why the sun's atmosphere is defying logic with temperatures that increase as it stretches away from the star's surface.

The high temperatures in the corona, which is the outermost later of the solar atmosphere, is one of astrophysics' unanswered questions, and the new mission hopes to answer it.

"I think of the coronal heating problem as an umbrella that covers a couple of related confusing problems," said Justin Kasper, a space scientist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "First, how does the corona get that hot that quickly? But the second part of the problem is that it doesn't just start, it keeps going. And not only does heating continue, but different elements are heated at different rates."

Scientists hope that by traveling to the corona, the Parker Solar Probe can obtain just-heated particles to send back to Earth for precise measurements.

"All of our work over the years has culminated to this point: We realized we can never fully solve the coronal heating problem until we send a probe to make measurements in the corona itself," said Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe deputy project scientist.

Ideally, the data will help us continue building an understanding of the space that surrounds us.

"I'm almost certain we'll discover new phenomena we don't know anything about now, and that's very exciting for us," Raouafi said. "Parker Solar Probe will make history by helping us understandcoronal heatingas well as solar wind acceleration and solar energetic particlesbut I think it also has the potential to steer the direction of solar physics' future."

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