In August 2018, the Parker spacecraft was launched into space by NASA and soon became the closest spacecraft to the sun. With state-of-the-art scientific instruments to measure the environment around the spacecraft, the spacecraft completed three of the 24 passages planned by never explored parts of the sun's atmosphere, the solar corona.
On November 6, 2018, NASA's Parker spacecraft was 24 million kilometers from the solar surface, breaking a 1976 record, and a month later it sent the first photograph taken into the sun's atmosphere.
On December 4, 2019, four new articles published in the journal Nature describe what scientists learned from this unprecedented exploration of the sun.
Nicola Fox, director of the US Space Agency's heliophysics department, said some information gathered confirmed what scientists had expected and others were totally unexpected.
One of the "surprises" was the detection of sudden and abrupt peaks in solar wind speed – with gusts that could reach 480,000 km / h. The speed is so high that it may be able to cause inversions in the direction of the sun's magnetic field – inversions are known as switchbacks.
During a switchback, which can last from a few seconds to several minutes, the magnetic field moves backwards like a whip until it is pointed almost directly at the sun.
Together, FIELDS and SWEAP, the University of Michigan-led solar wind analysis instrument suite managed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, measured switchback clusters on the first two flyovers of the Parker spacecraft.
Other findings from the Parker spacecraft include one confirming that the solar winds are not linear as imagined, even though they arrive uniformly on Earth, and one confirming that cosmic dust does not reach the sun – dust for more than 5.6 kilometers away.
Over the next six years, the Parker spacecraft will make 24 more overflights from the sun and reach 6.2 million kilometers from the surface at its peak. This will bring it seven times closer to the Sun than the Helios 2 spacecraft, which held the previous record.
The articles in Nature magazine published on the 4th can be seen at the links below:
1 – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1818-7
2 – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1813-z
3 – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1811-1
4 – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-019-1807-x