the-parker-solar-probe-will-have-company-on-its-next-go-by-the-sun

The Parker Solar Probe is no stranger to the sun. On January 17, the NASA spacecraft will make its seventh close pass of our star, coming within 14 million kilometers of its scorching surface area.

And this time, Parker will have lots of business. A fortunate celestial lineup implies that lots of other observatories will be trained on the sun at the same time. Together, these telescopes will supply unmatched views of the sun, assisting to solve some of the most enduring secrets of our star.

” This next orbit is truly a remarkable one,” states mission project scientist Nour Raouafi of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Chief amongst the spacecraft that will join the watch party is beginner Solar Orbiter, which the European Area Company released in February 2020 ( SN: 2/9/20). As Parker swings by our star this month, Solar Orbiter will be enjoying from the opposite of the sun.


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” This is partially luck,” solar physicist Timothy Horbury of Imperial College London stated December 10 at a news instruction at the virtual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “No one prepared to have Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter operating together; it’s simply come out that method.”

Collaborating, the sungazers will tackle long-standing puzzles: how the sun creates and controls the solar wind, why solar activity modifications with time and how to predict effective solar outbursts.

” I think it really is going to be a transformation,” Horbury stated. “We’re all extremely fortunate to be doing this at this moment in time.”

Operating in tandem

The Parker Solar Probe introduced in 2018 and has currently had six close encounters with the sun ( SN: 7/5/18). During its almost seven-year objective, the probe will ultimately swing within 6 million kilometers of the sun– less than one-seventh the range of Mercury from the sun– offering Parker’s heavily shielded instruments a better taste of the plasma and charged particles of the sun’s external environment, the corona ( SN: 7/31/18).

Since Parker gets so close, its cameras can not take direct photos of the solar surface area. Solar Orbiter, though, will get no closer than 42 million kilometers, letting it take the highest-resolution images of the sun ever.

During Parker’s seventh close encounter, which runs January 12–23, Solar Orbiter will observe the sun from a viewpoint practically opposite to Parker’s view. Half a lots other observers will be watching too, such as ESA’s BepiColombo spacecraft that is on its method to Mercury and NASA’s veteran sunwatcher STEREO-A. Both will flank Parker on either side of the sun. And telescopes in the world will be enjoying from a vantage point about 135 million kilometers behind Parker, making a straight line from Earth to the spacecraft to the sun.

Sun orbit diagram
When the Parker Solar Probe makes its next close pass of the sun (shown in the black arc in the center of this diagram), a host of other spacecraft and telescopes in the world will be seeing too. This diagram shows the relative positions during the flyby of the sun, Earth, Parker, Solar Orbiter and 2 other spacecraft, BepiColombo and STEREO-A. JHU-APL
Sun orbit diagram
When the Parker Solar Probe makes its next close pass of the sun (displayed in the black arc in the center of this diagram), a host of other spacecraft and telescopes on Earth will be enjoying too. This diagram shows the relative positions during the flyby of the sun, Earth, Parker, Solar Orbiter and 2 other spacecraft, BepiColombo and STEREO-A. JHU-APL

The circumstance is comparable to Parker’s fourth flyby in January 2020, when almost 50 observatories viewed the sun in tandem with the probe, Raouafi states. One of the results was verifying that there is an area around the sun that is totally free of dust, which was forecasted in 1929.

In the wind

At the AGU meeting, researchers provided brand-new results from Parker’s 2nd year of observations. The results deepen the mystery of magnetic kinks called “switchbacks” that Parker observed in the solar wind, a constant stream of charged particles flowing away from the sun ( SN: 12/ 4/19), Raouafi states.

Some observations support the idea that the kinks come from at the base of the corona and are brought past Parker and beyond, like a wave taking a trip along a dive rope. Others recommend the switchbacks are produced by turbulence within the solar wind itself.

Determining which idea is correct could help identify how the sun produces the solar wind in the top place. “These [switchbacks] could be the secret to describing how the solar wind is heated up and sped up,” Raouafi stated in a talk tape-recorded for AGU.

Meanwhile, Solar Orbiter’s zoomed-in images plus simultaneous measurements of the solar wind might enable scientists to trace the wind’s energetic particles back to their birthplaces on the sun’s surface area. Campfire flares– the “nanoflares” identified by Solar Orbiter– may even discuss the switchbacks, Horbury says.

” The objective is to connect small short-term occasions like nanoflares to modifications in the solar wind,” Horbury stated in the news briefing.

Getting Up with the sun

Parker and Solar Orbiter could not have arrived at a better time. “The sun has been very quiet, in a deep solar minimum for the last a number of years,” Horbury said. “However the sun is simply starting to get up now.”

Both spacecraft have actually seen solar activity building over the last year. During its drowsy duration, the sun shows fewer sunspots and outbursts such as flares and coronal mass ejections, or CMEs.

” We got so much data from that,” Raouafi says. More CMEs must pass Parker when it’s even closer to the sun, which will tell researchers about how these outbursts are launched.

Solar Orbiter caught an outburst too.

Coronal mass ejection diagram
Solar Orbiter detected a huge burst of plasma called a coronal mass ejection in April, practically a day before indications of the eruption reached Earth. Observers on Earth normally get just 40 minutes of cautioning before such an eruption arrives. ESA
Coronal mass ejection diagram
Solar Orbiter found a huge burst of plasma called a coronal mass ejection in April, almost a day prior to signs of the eruption reached Earth. Observers in the world generally get simply 40 minutes of cautioning before such an eruption arrives. ESA

” We can see how that CME progresses as it takes a trip away from the sun in such a way we’ve never ever had the ability to do in the past,” Horbury said.

Strong CMEs can knock out satellites and power grids, so having as much forewarning as possible is very important. A future spacecraft at Solar Orbiter’s range from the sun could help give that caution.

Looking forward

This orbit is the first time that Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter will view the sun in tandem, but not the last. “There will be lots of opportunities like this one,” Raouafi says.

He’s looking forward to one opportunity in particular: the solar eclipse of2024 Solar scientists plan to make observations from all along the course of totality, similar to how they enjoyed the total eclipse of2017

Throughout the eclipse, the Parker Solar Probe will be on its second-closest orbit, in between 7 million and 8 million kilometers from the sun. Parker and Solar Orbiter will be “almost on top of each other,” Raouafi says– both spacecraft will be together off to one side of the sun as seen from Earth.

” They will be flying through the structure we will see from Earth throughout the solar eclipse,” Raouafi states. The combined observations will inform scientists how features on the sun progress with time.

” I think it is a brand-new era,” Horbury said. “The next couple of years is going to be an action modification in the way we see the sun.”

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