To make sure you never miss out on your favourite NEW stories, we're happy to send you some reminders

Click 'OK' then 'Allow' to enable notifications

First mission to ‘touch’ the sun makes 'important' discovery about solar wind
Featured Image Credit: JHU Applied Physics Laboratory/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/Geopix/Alamy

First mission to ‘touch’ the sun makes 'important' discovery about solar wind

Researchers have made a breakthrough discovery about the sun

The exciting first mission to 'touch' the sun has just made an 'important' discovery about solar wind.

Researchers have made a key step in uncovering the source of solar wind after finally getting close enough to the sun.

The mission, first launched back in 2018, seeks to determine what the wind looks like as it forms near the sun and how it escapes the star’s gravity.

Data - published in the journal Nature yesterday (7 June) - has been collected from the Parker Solar Probe which was named after the late astrophysicist Eugene Parker.

As the solar probe came within around 13 million miles (20.9 million kilometers) of the sun, it was able to successfully detect fine structures of the solar wind where it generates near the photosphere, also known as the solar surface.

NASA researchers have made a groundbreaking discovery about the source of solar wind.
HU Applied Physics Laboratory/NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Such structures gave researchers a key insight after capturing details that disappear once the wind is blasted from the corona, or the sun’s hot outer atmosphere, toward Earth.

At its closest approach, the probe was designed to eventually fly within an impressive distance of about 3.9 million miles (6.2 million kilometers) above the solar surface and, back in 2021, the spacecraft and the team of brains behind it became the first mission ever to 'touch' the sun.

NASA's official website explains: "NASA's Parker Solar Probe is on a mission to 'touch the Sun'.

"The spacecraft is flying closer to the Sun’s surface than any spacecraft before it. The mission will revolutionize our understanding of the sun."

So, why is understand solar wind so important?

The mission is said to completely 'revolutionize our understanding of the Sun'.
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

Well, for one, understanding the source of the solar wind is vital in helping scientists better predict space weather as well as solar storms that can affect Earth's own atmosphere.

"Winds carry lots of information from the sun to Earth, so understanding the mechanism behind the sun’s wind is important for practical reasons on Earth," said study co-author James Drake, a professor of physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, in a statement.

Drake continued: "That’s going to affect our ability to understand how the sun releases energy and drives geomagnetic storms, which are a threat to our communication networks."

The NASA probe detected extremely energetic particles which were traveling between 10 and 100 times faster than the solar wind.

Understanding solar wind helps scientists better predict space weather as well as solar storms that can affect Earth.
ZCH / Pexels

This discovery led researchers to believe that the lightning-fast solar wind is created by the reconnection of magnetic fields.

Lead study author, Stuart D. Bale, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement: "The big conclusion is that it’s magnetic reconnection within these funnel structures that’s providing the energy source of the fast solar wind.

"It doesn’t just come from everywhere in a coronal hole, it’s substructured within coronal holes to these supergranulation cells. It comes from these little bundles of magnetic energy that are associated with the convection flows.

"Our results, we think, are strong evidence that it’s reconnection that’s doing that."

Topics: NASA, News, Science, Space, Technology, World News, US News