Sun's Rogue Plasma Waves And Magnetic Islands Revealed By NASA's Parker Probe

Recently, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which was launched back in 2018, had its first two intimate encounters with the Sun, witnessing floating magnetic islands, showers of charged particles and rogue plasma waves in the process.

Close Encounters With The Sunny Kind

Manufactured by Applied Physics Laboratory and originally launched last year, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is reportedly on a seven-year mission to soar near the sun repeatedly and observe its external features, with the hopes of solving some mysteries that have confused solar physicists and experts for decades. Such mysteries include why the sun’s atmosphere is millions of degrees Celsius hotter than its surface and what powers the solar wind blows outward through the solar system. The probe is currently on an elliptical orbit, which brings it near the sun every five months.

Of course, at the moment, it’s still unclear as to what the answers to those are. However, a new paper published Wednesday in the scientific journal Nature recently offered a sort of teaser as to what we can expect from the probe’s upcoming encounters with the sun for the next few years.

“We’re exploring a brand-new region. Questions we would have formulated a year ago are just going to be blown away by the things that we’re actually seeing,” Russell Howard, a solar physicist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., who is in charge of the probe’s cameras, said.

According to Howard, the probe has made a round trip of its orbit for a total of three times now, with the latest sun encounter happening back in September 1. Each time, the probe was able to fly within 24 million kilometers from the sun’s surface, which is twice as close as Mercury can ever get.

Per its latest encounter, the scientists handling the probe discovered that the sun gives off rogue plasma waves through its atmosphere. These plasma waves are also accompanied by a sudden reversal of the magnetic field around the probe.

“A compass on the spacecraft would have spun all the way around as a wave went past,” Justin Kasper, mission scientist and a physicist at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said.

The team is reportedly looking forward to more solar observations that the probe will provide in the near future.

Halloween Sun On October 8, 2014, active regions on the sun gave it the appearance of a jack-o'-lantern. This image is a blend of 171 and 193 angstrom light as captured by the Solar Dynamics Observatory. NASA/GSFC/SDO sun-1459704_960_720 Ultima Thule is located at the edge of the Solar System, 4 billion miles from Earth. Photo by Pixabay (CC0)