From the Origin of the Solar Wind to the Parker Solar Probe

From the Origin of the Solar Wind to the Parker Solar Probe

Humanity is all set to touch the Sun for the first time ever through a spacecraft of NASA.

A stream of charged particles released from the upper atmosphere of the Sun (corona) is known as a Solar Wind. The particles (protons, electrons, and alpha particles) of this wind escape from the gravitational field of the Sun due to the intense temperatures of the corona. Solar Wind is quite common in our solar system and it is completely obvious given the fact that sun is the central point. Once it reaches the atmosphere of the Earth, a fascinating display of aurora is observed in specific parts of the world. Contrary to these pleasing sights, solar wind is also responsible for disrupting communication signals, exposing astronauts to harmful radiations, and interfering with the electronic satellites.

Through Parker Solar Probe, scientists want to know as much as possible about this wind so that they could manage some countermeasures to lessen its effects. This satellite is named after Eugene Parker, a Physicist at the University of Chicago, who was the first human to predict the existence of the solar wind. He revealed his theory in 1958 according to which the corona of the sun overcomes its gravity due to the prevalence of unimaginably hot temperatures. According to his beliefs, all the matter in the corona expands outrageously and spreads in all possible directions. This phenomenon was named as Solar Wind which was later confirmed by the Luna 1 of Soviet Union and the Mariner 2 of NASA.

4 years after the prediction of Parker, Mariner 2 found two independent streams of solar wind. The slower of the two was moving at a speed of 215 miles per second while the faster stream was galloping through the space at approximately 430 miles per second. Researchers had to wait till 1973 for identifying the source of these fast winds. The first manned space station of the United States called Skylab took X-ray images of the Sun’s corona to reveal that coronal holes lead to these winds. Coronal holes refer to comparatively cooler regions on the Sun. Having said that, scientists don’t know much about the slow winds and are striving very hard to solve this mystery. Jim Klimchuk, a Solar Physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA, talked about that and said,

The slow solar wind is, in many respects, a larger mystery. It offers great promise for revealing fundamental new understanding.”

Although science has failed to answer this long-lasting puzzle, it has provided us with a lot of information that can be used to make further deductions. A mission that helped a lot in this regard was launched by NASA in 1990 under the title of Ulysses Mission. It was assigned the responsibility to observe the poles of the Sun. The findings of this mission showed that the solar wind is limited to the equator of the Sun when minimum solar activity is being observed. On the other hand, the behavior of this wind becomes mixed when the solar cycle approaches its maximum. Solar winds become fast at the poles while it is slow at the equator.

The Parker Solar Probe will be revolving around the equator of our sun for direct sampling of solar particles and magnetic fields. Researchers are hoping that this data will prove extremely beneficial in answering some of the most important questions of the solar science. All the different theories about slow solar wind are dependent on your understanding of the open and closed corona. The open corona suggests that the magnetic field lines are connected to the surface of the sun at only one end which allows the plasma to spread in space. In opposition to it, closed corona says that the lines of magnetic field are anchored at both ends which ensures that the ionized gas of the sun stays near it.

It is quite a popular claim that the slow solar winds experienced intense heating in the past and were on closed field lines a long ago. All the measurements we have till now are taken from near Earth and their credibility is highly doubtful due to great distances. This leads us to a point where closer inspection becomes a must and Parker Solar Probe will do just that. Klimchuk explained that in the following words:

If we can measure the slow solar wind, and find it comes from the boundary between open and closed magnetic fields, then that supports the idea that magnetic reconnection gives rise to the slow solar wind.”

One Reply to “From the Origin of the Solar Wind to the Parker Solar Probe”

  1. It makes for an interesting idea of catching “rare” radioactive isotopes that may show different elements that have a relatively long lifespan (8 seconds is pretty long when traveling from the corona to the earth, but it makes me wonder if the particularly radioactive particles may introduce different “flavors” of gamma-radiation detection, having come from a peculiar type of excited element caught in an electromagnetic “ribbon” of force, or an explosive CME; when the ribbon short circuits itself and may eject rare atoms of unknown, highly energized particles. I’d wonder if you couldn’t park a satellite above the poles and try to spectrocopically identify the elements and if need be – try to sample a few during one of the solar maximum cycles… …it’s a theory, but those ribbons do act like giant particle colliders, and it’d be interesting to see if there are rarely glimpsed half-life particles created in a solar flare.

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