- Paola Ayala
For the first time ever, a man made object has kissed the Sun
For the first time ever, a man-made object has kissed the Sun. On April 28th, 2021, NASA's Parker Solar Probe entered the Sun's atmosphere after almost three years of its initial launch. The Parker Solar Probe is a car-sized spacecraft made by NASA that was launched in the fall of 2018 with a specific focus: touching the Sun or getting very close. NASA wants to understand the Sun better, which has been the closest humans have ever gotten. The Probe has been designed to withstand the Sun's heat (1.8 billion degrees Fahrenheit) using shields of carbon bricks. The spacecraft has been orbiting around the Sun since and getting closer through time. The spaceship flies around Venus, where gravity allows the spacecraft to be slingshotted closer to the Sun each round; these are called flybys. Since April, the spacecraft has encountered the Sun twice more, once in August and November.
So, why are we just hearing about this now? NASA needed these months to make sure they had done it; they analyzed the Probe's energy interactions with the Sun. In the end, the Sun's unique magnetic field was the indicator that the Probe had come into contact. NASA announced their findings at a press conference in New Orleans last week. Already this achievement has given researchers profound insight into our home star.
The Probe collected data from the Sun's electric and magnetic fields to understand solar winds. Solar winds are supercharged electrons, and ionized atoms that shoot out of the Sun into the Earth that knockout our satélites and cause magnetic disturbances. Geomagnetic disturbances are the reason for the Northern lights in the Earth's poles and impact spacecraft and transformers on Earth. Recent studies are also now finding these disturbances also might have an impact on humans directly. Studies have found that these geomagnetic disturbances lead to increased cardiovascular diseases and myocardial deaths in 263 U.S cities. But how? The answer is very complicated, but in simple words, these disturbances cause changes in the electric and magnetic fields on Earth that impact the human nervous system. This study is relevant because, in the Probe's flybys, it has found the source of these solar winds; they are generated by the surface of the Sun. The Probe also discovered a pseudo streamer - a huge structure that comes from the Sun. Scientists compared these to the "eye of a storm" because of how relatively calm the structure is compared to its surroundings.
(Pseudo streamer from NASA's Parker Solar Probe)
The Probe still is kicking and is on a mission to get closer to the surface of the Sun. The Probe touching the Sun has been a significant milestone reached by humans; it is also the start of our end to many religions. It's pretty hard to wrap my head around a piece of technology, even being able to hold that much heat and send it back to Earth, but that's what NASA did, so props to them, I guess.