NASA Probe Makes History As The First Spacecraft To 'Touch' The Sun

By Bill Galluccio

December 15, 2021

Photo: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL

NASA's Parker Solar Probe made history as it became the first spacecraft to "touch the sun." The probe was launched in 2018 to study the solar winds that emanate from the sun.

After circling the sun eight times, the probe entered the sun's atmosphere to gather particle samples from the corona.

"Parker Solar Probe "touching the Sun" is a monumental moment for solar science and a truly remarkable feat," said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Not only does this milestone provide us with deeper insights into our Sun's evolution and its impacts on our solar system, but everything we learn about our own star also teaches us more about stars in the rest of the universe."

The probe was about 8.1 million miles above the surface of the sun when its instruments detected specific readings indicating it had entered the sun's atmosphere. As it orbited the sun, the probe passed in and out of the corona, which proves that the Alfvén critical surface, the point at which the solar atmosphere ends and solar winds begin, is not uniform in shape or size.

The probe will head deeper into the sun during its next flyby in January 2022, when it is expected to get within 3.83 million miles of the sun's surface.

"Flying so close to the Sun, Parker Solar Probe now senses conditions in the magnetically dominated layer of the solar atmosphere – the corona – that we never could before," said Nour Raouafi, the Parker project scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. "We see evidence of being in the corona in magnetic field data, solar wind data, and visually in images. We can actually see the spacecraft flying through coronal structures that can be observed during a total solar eclipse."

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