The other Corona: Know about the Sun's atmosphere 'touched' by a man-made probe for the first time

WION Web Team
New DelhiUpdated: Dec 15, 2021, 05:40 PM IST
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Knowing more about the Sun has been mankind's obsession for at least a millennia. Parker Solar Probe's successful entry in Sun's atmosphere is a huge step in that direction. NASA scientists have described this feat as 'dream come true'

While the actual surface of the Sun will burn (evaporate actually) anything to a crisp with its thousands of degrees temperature, even a few million miles from the surface are way hotter than the hottest furnace. This had made approaching the Sun a giant problem because human spacecraft made of any known material was feared to promptly melt , making the mission  useless. But NASA's Parker Solar Probe has opened a new frontier for science by entering Corona, the atmosphere of the Sun.

What is Corona?

Corona is the solar atmosphere. It is an envelope around the Sun in which the material given off by the Sun is more bound to the Sun. Outside the Corona, the solar material is sent in space in the form of Solar wind at high speeds. Scientists do not yet fully know the reason behind this disparity fully.

Why do we study solar atmosphere?

As much as it supports life on Earth, Sun in unforgiving to anything that is in its vicinity without proper protection. Solar material is constantly ejected from the Sun at extremely high speeds. This is called Solar Wind. It is capable of making million-dollar satellites a piece of junk. Earth's atmosphere and magnetic field shields all life on the surface but same isn't always true about satellites revolving around Earth.

We do not fully know why solar wind is sent out at very high speeds from Sun. It originates from Sun's atmosphere (the Corona). Understanding solar atmosphere may make us protect our spacecrafts and satellites better.
When was Parker solar probe launched?

NASA launched Parker solar probe in August 2018. The probe went around the Sun several times, the orbit reducing each time. The end goal was to enter the corona. During its 8th revolution around the Sun in April 2021, Parker solar probe entered the Corona

What did Parker solar probe find inside solar atmosphere?


(Solar particles inside corona (left) are more bound to the Sun. Outside Corona they are ejected as Solar Wind. Image: NASA)

The instruments of the probe found that as the craft entered Corona, there was marked difference in the extent to which solar material was projected out in space. Outside Corona, the material was more readily sent out. But inside it was more bound to the Sun. At this time, the probe was 8 million kms away from solar surface.

As the probe entered corona, it also found that magnetic field of the Sun grew much stronger.

What now?

Parker probe's achievements has been nothing short of a 'dream come true' in words of NASA scientists quoted by the agency in its reports. Mankind had dreamed of knowing more about the Sun for millennia at least. NASA publicly declared its ambition of sending a probe to the Sun in the 50s. Parker solar probe's achievement has been a result of decades of patient research and resolute, steady scientific progress towards the goal. Something that was unimaginable has been achieved.

Who knows? We may even develop technology that will allow us to venture even closer to our very own star.