First Light Data from Parker Solar Probe

First Light Data from Parker Solar Probe

The first images of the NASA’s solar probe show that all its instruments are raring to go.

Parker Solar Probe is a robotic spacecraft from NASA which will probe the outer corona of the Sun. It was launched on 12th August 2018 with intentions of approaching within 6.2 million kilometers from the surface of the Sun. According to calculations, it will be moving at a speed of 700,000 km/h at the closest approach. It was the first spacecraft of NASA which was named after a living individual. Eugene Parker, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, was given this honor in 2017.

Recently, the officials at NASA told the world that the probe is up and running as they received the first light data from all of its four instrument suites. All these instruments work in tandem to measure the particles coming from the Sun, electric and magnetic fields of Sun, and capture images of the surrounding environment of the spacecraft. Nour Raouafi, the Project Scientist of the Parker Solar Probe at the Applied Physics Lab of the John Hopkins University, explained that by saying,

All instruments returned data that not only serves for calibration but also captures glimpses of what we expect them to measure near the Sun to solve the mysteries of the solar atmosphere, the corona.”

Parker Solar Probe is expected to reach closest to the Sun in November 2018. However, following is a glimpse of what the instruments of the probe found out for now.


This instrument is assigned the task of assessing the shape and scale of the magnetic and electric field in the atmosphere of the Sun. This information is incredibly vital for determining why the corona of the Sun is much hotter than its surface. There are a total of 8 sensors on the FIELDS. Three of them are magnetometers while the rest of them are electric field antennas. The magnetic sensors began operating in August, shortly after the launch. On the other hand, the electric antennas in the front of the spacecraft were deployed earlier this month and they immediately captured the signatures of a solar flare. Stuart Bale, a member of the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California who is also the Principal Investigator of the FIELDS, said,

During its commissioning time, FIELDS measured its first radio burst from a solar flare. FIELDS is one of the most comprehensive fields and waves suites ever flown in space, and it is performing beautifully.”

Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR)

WISPR is the only imager aboard the Parker Solar Probe. It will provide the clearest glimpse of the solar wind till date by making use of its two telescopes. The protective door of the WISPR was closed at the time of launch to keep it safe. The door was re-opened at the beginning of September and the imager took its first image on the 9th of September. The principal investigator of WISPR, Russ Howard, examined these images and concluded that the instrument is using celestial landmarks as a guide which is exactly what they expected. He also talked about different celestial objects and their brightness.

Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP)

This suite comprises of three instruments including a Solar Probe Cup and a couple of Solar Probe Analyzers. These analyzers are responsible for measuring the number of electrons and ions in the solar wind while the Solar Probe Cup directly measures the streams of particles coming from the Sun. Originally, it was believed that this instrument will mostly measure the background noise but things changed dramatically once it was powered on. The domination of such observations will continue to increase as the Parker Solar Probe moves closer to the Sun. The Principal Investigator of this SWEAP, Justin Kasper, praised the performance of the suite in the following words:

SWEAP’s solar wind and corona plasma instrument performance has been very promising. Our preliminary results just after turn-on suggest we have a set of highly sensitive instruments that will allow us to do amazing science close to the Sun.”

Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun (ISʘIS)

Contrary to SWEAP, this suite keeps track of the high-energy particles associated with solar flares and coronal mass ejections. It has two Energetic Particle Instruments (EPI-Lo and EPI-Hi) which take care of a diverse range of energies. Both of these instruments were tested under low voltage and they looked quite promising. David McComas, the Principal Investigator of ISʘIS who serves as a Professor of Astrophysical Sciences at the Princeton University, acknowledged that by saying,

The ISʘIS team is delighted with instrument turn-on so far. There are a few more steps to go, but so far everything looks great!”

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