Scientists continue to explore mystery of Sun's hot corona

Since the discovery of the hot corona, scientists have conducted many studies into its behavior.
By Tyler MacDonald | Jul 31, 2018
Scientists are continuing their study of the Sun's coronathe outermost of its atmosphereto solve the mystery behind its high temperatures. Against all logic, it gets much hotter as it extends from the star's hot surface.

"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. "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."

Since the discovery of the hot corona, scientists have conducted many studies into its behavior, including some that harness powerful instruments and models. Yet even the most comprehensive models and observations only somewhat explain coronal heating. Not only that, but some theories contradict one another.

"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.

But by examining the heating from close-up, scientists are hoping to soon put the mystery to rest.

"We're going close to the heating, and there are times Parker Solar Probe will co-rotate, or orbit the Sun at the same speed the Sun itself rotates," said Eric Christian, a space scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "That's an important part of the science. By hovering over the same spot, we'll see the evolution of heating."

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