Today in this article we discuss how Parker Solar Probe dive in sun.
Our sun is very important for us. It provides energy to our lives, it give us warmth. In fact, the sun is very necessary for life on earth. But sometimes there are storms of the sun which are called solar storms. These can harm life and sometimes our satellite etc are also damaged due to this.
That’s why it is necessary to understand them. To attain this objective a spacecraft named Parker Solar Probe’ was sent towards the sun in 2018 and 2021, for the first time, we learned that this spacecraft sent by humans has entered the sun (in a way). But what does it mean, it has entered the sun?
Parker’s Dive into the Sun
Our sun is a ball of gas and plasma which is held together by gravity. Gravity it always trying to crush it but the core of our sun is extremely hot, it is 15 million degree centigrade, and the pressure produced by this heat balance out this gravity
and the pressure produced by this heat balances out this gravity. So, this is the life of our sun gravity tries to crush it and the pressure produced by the heat in the center balances out this gravity. This is the star of life. And this struggle has been going on for the last 4.5 billion years and will keep on going for many more billion years. If our sun is made of gases then why does it look like a ball to us? You can see this easily.
So you see a ball like sun. This surface which you can see is called ‘PHOTOSPHERE’ by astronomers. What is it. This is that place, (remember the sun is made only of gases) where, when we are looking at the sun the gases become so dense,
They do not allow us to look further meaning they become opaque. When we are seeing the sun, shaped like a ball at the time of sunset, we are seeing that surface of the sun where the sun is opaque. The temperature of that surface we know its physics is 6000 degrees centigrade and that is why it looks yellowish to us. But if you keep on going into the sun the temperature of the sun will keep on increasing and in the end when you reach its core (as I said earlier) the temperature of its core is 15 million degrees centigrade.
You can guess in the gases in the photosphere are so dense, they are opaque but there must be some gases before that also. How do we find out whether the gases are present or not. There is one method ‘The solar eclipse’. When there is an eclipse the moon blocks the main surface of the sun or the photosphere especially in total eclipse
These gases on the outside are called corona by astronomers and corona mean crown. this wispy structure is present on the Sun. But there is one person. These gases, the wispy structures of Corona is several million degrees hot. If you keep going inside the photosphere, the temperature keeps rising, but this Corona gases which are outside the photosphere are hot, about 1,000,000°.
How is this possible? This is a big mystery that why is the temperature of the Crona so high. For our understanding, corona is where these particles are present which make solar winds and escape from the Corona. The solar winds go toward the Earth. No Doubt. It’s spread out in our whole solar system but the magnetic field of Earth keeps us safe from any harm.
But oftenoften the solar winds can turn into our solar storm in which these charged particles come towards the Earth in large numbers. The biggest event of this kind named ‘The Carrington Event’ was in 1859, which caused great disruption and the event of that scale today will disrupt our lives the working of the satellite to a large extent.
It is also necessity to understand this (the solar storms) because if we are thinking of space travel, like the astronauts who went to the moon during the 1969 to 1972 period, we had to make sure they did not face these solar storms during their journey. Similarly, if we are thinking of going to Mars in future (that journey will be of several months)
And the astronauts will not be protected by any magnetic field. So there is create danger in this space travel from these types of solar storms. Different militaries are also interested in this because your communication can be disrupted during this solar storm. So you can see this is a significant question that where are the origins of this solar winds and how do these particles take the shape of a solar storm?
Parker Solar Probe and Sun
To solve these particular questions a spacecraft named ‘Parker solar probe’ was launched in 2018 . This is the fastest spacecraft made by humans and as you can guess it has a shield of carbon composite in its material Which can withstand extreme temperatures. The estimate is it can withstand temperatures for 1400°C (the temperature of a bonfire) because this probe will go very near the Sun, and one of its goal is to enter the corona of the Sun.
On 28 April 2021 at 2:30, PST, ETA was know that the spacecraft for the first time has entered the Sun’s corona. Many headlines at that time said this spacecraft in a sense had for the first time touched the sun. But what does it mean? It actually means for the first time a spacecraft made by humans has entered the Corona of the Sun.
This was that eight orbits of this podcast space craft near the Sun and after every orbit, it is going a little near the Sun. In April 2021, it was about 13 millions km above the surface, or the photosphere of the Sun meaning about 20 time, the radius of our sun. From there, it took this incredible picture where you see streams.
Streams of plasma as it is entering the Corona. Thinking for a minute that this man made spacecraft is taking picture entering the Sun. Also you can see other things or other things in the background and my favourite picture in them.
is the one showing our own Milky Way in the background behind these streamers. No, not only these picture of streamers, but other instruments of Parker solar probe measure magnetism. All of them have confirmed that it has entered the Sun the krone of the Sun, but how do we know that it has actually into the corona?
Actually astronomers think that there is a boundary called ’ALFVEN CRITICAL WAVE’ (do not worry about its technical name). It’s basic definition is outside the Boundry of the Corona the solar particles are being pushed out very quickly and because their speed is very high, they cannot go back toward the sun. But the speed of the particles in the krone, Boundry or the alpha wave critical boundary is relatively less, and they are tethered with the magnetic field of the sun meaning the solar particles can go back to the Sun and they do not have ability to escape.
This was being tested by the park probe, Where does the boundary start, where the overall speed of the particles relatively becomes less and the props succeeds measuring the direction of the magnetic field.
But the Parker probe detected and other surprising thing. The probe detected that this boundary is very very very wavy type instead of being smooth.
This is an other puzzle. Why isn’t this boundary smooth? As we see the photos for relatively looks ball shaped, but the Boundry of the Corona is very wavy. There is another big puzzle. This Parker solar probe before entering the Corona noted another thing,
There are different type of Kinks in these solar winds that it is this solar wind bends at some places. Astronomers call it’s switchbacks and the idea is to understand the solar storms. It is very necessary to understand this switch back. The Parker solar probe has traced some switchbacks to the surface of the Sun, which we call photosphere.
Although when we see the setting sun and assume it will be very beautiful and serene there is much activity on its surface. There are different types of convection cells on the photosphere, which mean constantly material of the sun come after below and after cooling goes towards the inside of the Sun.
This phenomena of convection when you boil water exactly the same physics is in it, which is taking place on the surface of the Sun. Astronomers think that these switchbacks originate from the surface of the magnetic funnels in the convection cells and then the solar wind particles through Corona maintain these switchbacks and keep on taking them forward. This is a very significant discovery, but still, we do not exactly know the mechanism why these kinks develop on the surface of the Sun.
Parker solar probe will keep monitoring these things that why is this twisting taking place. And this is only the beginning when this podcast solar probe entered the corona on April 2021 it was 13,000,000 km above the photosphere. It is going to make many more orbits around it. This was its eighth orbit around our sun.
Almost 24 bits are planned in its mission and it will pass near Venus 7 times and it will become faster because of its gravity. This is called gravitational assists. And near its last orbit a few years from now in 2024 or 2025. The speed of the spacecraft will be 700000 kilometres per hour.
If you are on the spacecraft, it will take less than two seconds to reach Islamabad from Lahore. The most amazing thing is that this Parker solar probe is not only giving answer to many questions. In fact it is raising many other such questions, whose answers we do not know yet.
We take the Sun for granted as it is always present, but we should remember that this is the nearest star to us. The star is the one because of which life became possible on our Earth. So this Parker solar probe has great importance to understand other stars also.