NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft nearly skipped the sun last week and almost touched the star’s outer atmosphere. In addition, the probe also broke two records – previously obtained by itself – namely the figures for velocity and distance from the star.
It was developed to study the sun closely Parker Solar It’s about the size of a car. Every time the star passes, it approaches: it has now reached 6.5 million kilometers – a very small stretch spatially. This is closer than any other spacecraft has ever been able to.
This approach is only possible because the probe uses the gravitational force of Venus to capture momentum. And the more you do that, the faster you gain. This time, it reached 532,000 kilometers per hour, according to NASA, and became the fastest human-made object ever. With this acceleration, the spacecraft could take 13 orbits of Earth in one hour.
The records Parker Solar set last week are expected to be broken later this year, when the spacecraft passes through Venus again. The probe is expected to remain in operation until 2025 and scientists expect that by that time, it will reach 690,000 kilometers per hour.
Natural radio broadcasts on Venus
And speaking of Venus, the spacecraft was very close to the planet when it flew over it in July 2020: it was only 832 kilometers from the surface. This means that Parker Solar has effectively entered the dense atmosphere of Venus.
At this distance, the spacecraft was able to capture what appeared to be a normal radio broadcast. A study was published this week in Geophysical Research Letters Detection details.
One of Parker Solar’s instruments, FIELDS, which investigates magnetic fields, captured seven minutes of natural, low-frequency radio signals. “I’ve been so excited about this new data from Venus,” says Glenn Juleson, study lead and scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “The next day, I woke up and thought, Oh my God, I know what this is!”
According to Juleson, the noise is very similar to that captured in the ionosphere of Jupiter’s moons by the Galileo spacecraft in 2003. He and his team have already compared the signals with those obtained by Pioneer Venus in 1992, when the solar cycle was at its limit. Maximum. Now, they have been able to tie them to the information Parker Solar has collected at least in the solar cycle – the time when the sun is least active.
The conclusion was surprising: Venus’ ionosphere becomes thinner as the solar cycle reaches its minimum. In other words, the planet simulates the effect on the sun. “As many missions confirm the same finding, we are increasingly certain the mitigation is real,” evaluates Robin Ramstad, co-author of the study and researcher at the Atmospheric Physics Laboratory and Space Station at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
More studies on Venus
Now, scientists want to use the information gathered by the spacecraft to study Venus in more detail. They hope the new data will help understand how the planet turned into a ball of hot gas, even though it is similar in size and structure to Earth.
Because the environment of Venus is so hostile, researchers find it difficult to study it. With the information Parker Solar now obtained, it was possible to understand how Venus’s atmosphere changes over the 11-year period of the Sun’s activity: the star’s magnetic field causes the planet’s north and south poles to alternate with each revolution.
These discoveries are the result of decades of data gathering. Although Parker Solar’s main goal is to get close to the Sun, the spacecraft’s flyby of other planets in the Solar System brings a lot of information and proves that there are still many mysteries to be discovered about it.