NASA's Sonic Parker Sonar met the sun and lived to tell the story.
The spacecraft in the sun has already broken the records of the fastest space probe and the nearest brush that every spacecraft has done with the sun. The probe now sends data back to its near-sunshine meeting, scientists announced on December 12 at the US Geophysical Union Meeting in Washington, D.C.
"What we are looking at now is quite new," said Sun Physics physicist Nur Rawafi of the University of Applied Physics at Johns Hopkins University in London at a press conference. – No one has ever considered it before.
Parker launches on August 12 (SN Online: 8/12/18) and will make 24 nearby gaps in the sun over the next seven years, eventually reaching about 6 million kilometers from the surface of the sun (SN: 7/21/18, p. 12). The spacecraft made its first close trip until November 6, dropping at about 24 million kilometers from the sunny surface. It's almost twice as close to the sun than the previous nearest spacecraft, the Helios spacecraft in the 1970s. At peak speed, Parker competed at about 375,000 kilometers per hour, roughly twice as fast as Helios.
But since the probe was on the opposite side of the sun on Earth during a flight, Parker did not start transmitting his observations until December 7.
After the probe appeared behind the sun, Parker's team took their first glance at the wise outer solar atmosphere called the crown. One of the first images from Parker's camera shows unprecedented details in the solar stream – a plasma thread in the crown. The team hopes that Parker's data will help solve the mystery why the crown is about 300 times hotter than the surface of the sun (SN Online: 8/20/17).
Only about a fifth of the data recorded during Parker's initial movement will reach the scientists before the sun lands again between the Earth and the spacecraft. The remaining data will be reduced next year between March and May. Scientists hope to start publishing results soon.
"If you ask a scientist from the team or even beyond what you expect, I think the answer will be, we really do not know," said Rauffy. "We're pretty sure we'll make new discoveries."