The solar environment is drastically different, but scientists are thrilled.
“Nobody has ever flown through a solar event so close to the Sun before,” Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, said in a statement. “The data would be totally new, and we would definitely learn a lot from it.”
NASA had reported earlier this summer that Solar Cycle 25 was already exceeding predictions for solar activity, even with the expected solar maximum in 2025.
“When the Sun changes, it also changes the environment around it. The activity at this time is way higher than we expected,” said Raouafi.
The scientist expects the high level of solar activity to continue as Parker approaches this perihelion, just 5.3 million miles from the Sun. The spacecraft is yet to fly through a solar flare or a coronal mass ejection (CME) during one of its close encounters, but that may change this coming month, reported NASA.
The resulting data would be groundbreaking.
Built to withstand whatever the Sun can throw at it
Parker’s observations will aid in understanding the physics of the Sun, helping better predict space weather, which can affect electric grids, communications and navigation systems, astronauts and satellites in space, and more. Parker’s Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) instrument has already imaged a small number of CMEs from a distance, which has led to unexpected discoveries about the structure of CMEs.
However, though the Sun is more active than in previous encounters, mission operators are not concerned about unfavorable incidents to the spacecraft.
“Parker Solar Probe is built to withstand whatever the Sun can throw at it,” said Doug Rodgers, APL’s science operations center coordinator for the mission. “Every orbit is different, but the mission is a well-oiled machine at this point.”