NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Captures Stunning Footage of Vortex in Sun’s Atmosphere

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The title for the fastest spacecraft in our solar system has been claimed by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. The probe, which is venturing closer to the sun than any previous mission, recently recorded mesmerizing footage of swirling vortex-like structures within the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona. The unprecedented images were captured by the probe’s WISPR camera (Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe) and have been shared online.

Scientists speculate that these vortex formations were triggered by a coronal mass ejection (CME), a solar event where the sun releases a massive amount of super hot gas (plasma) into space, causing interaction with the solar wind. The sun’s solar wind consists of a steady stream of charged particles emitted by our medium-sized star.

The recent research accompanying the footage, published in The Astrophysical Journal, suggests that this discovery in the unexplored regions of the sun presents new possibilities for a better comprehension and prediction of CMEs. These outbursts have the potential to severely impact communication systems and electrical grids on Earth. The scientifically termed “Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities” (KHI) are behind these rare vortices.

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“The direct observation of extraordinary and transient events like KHI with WISPR/PSP is a remarkable breakthrough that offers new insights into the propagation of CMEs and their interaction with the surrounding solar wind,” remarked Evangelos Paouris, a space weather researcher and member of the WISPR team at George Mason University.

CMEs have the potential to jeopardize satellites, disrupt communication and navigation technologies, and even cause blackouts in power grids on Earth, as explained by NASA. Notably, a powerful CME in 1989 caused a widespread power outage in Québec, Canada. This event occurred when the CME collided with Earth’s magnetic field on March 12 of that year, leading to a significant disruption in power supply, affecting millions of people.

An artist's conception of NASA's Parker Solar Probe passing through the sun's outer atmosphere, or corona.

An artist’s conception of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe passing through the sun’s outer atmosphere, or corona.
Credit: NASA

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe continues its intense voyages into the sun’s corona with a specially designed 4.5-inch-thick carbon heat shield aimed directly at the sun to endure extreme temperatures. While the shield itself reaches temperatures of around 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the area just a few feet behind remains comparatively cooler.

Later this year, the spacecraft is expected to achieve an incredible speed of 430,000 miles per hour.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the Parker Solar Probe?

The Parker Solar Probe is a spacecraft launched by NASA to explore the sun’s atmosphere, making it the fastest spacecraft in our solar system. It has captured unprecedented footage of vortex-like structures in the sun’s outer atmosphere.

2. What are coronal mass ejections (CMEs)?

Coronal mass ejections are solar events where the sun releases a large amount of super hot gas (plasma) into space, potentially interacting with the solar wind. These phenomena can impact communication systems and electrical grids on Earth.

3. What are Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities (KHI)?

Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities are rare vortices observed in the sun’s atmosphere, as recently captured by the Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR camera. Studying KHI can provide insights into coronal mass ejections and their effects on the solar wind.

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