NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Delivers A Wealth Of Hot Data After Its First Two Brushes With The Sun

Illustration of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun.
Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben / NASA

The Parker Solar Probe has hit another major milestone in its trailblazing mission to study the sun. After surviving two close brushes with our incandescent star, the intrepid car-sized spacecraft is now beaming back invaluable data from its first solar flybys, Engadget is reporting.

Launched last summer, the tiny spacecraft has been shattering records left and right ever since it first took to the skies on August 12, 2018. Famously known as NASA’s first mission to “touch” the sun, the probe broke the world records for closest spacecraft to the sun and fastest-ever human-made object relative to the sun in late October, as covered by The Inquisitr at the time. A week later, on November 5, the dauntless spacecraft hit its first perihelion, acing its first close encounter with the sun. Its second perihelion came earlier this year, on April 4, and brought the probe within 15 million miles from the sun’s visible surface, per a previous report from The Inquisitr.

All of the data gathered by the pioneering spacecraft during its two historic close encounters with the sun have been successfully downlinked to Earth, the mission team at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) announced earlier this week. According to APL, which designed and built the spacecraft, the transfer has exceeded all expectations, as the Parker Solar Probe managed to beam back 22 GB of data – or 50 percent more than estimated before its launch.

As CNET points out, the data delivered by the Parker Solar Probe after its first two flybys of the sun is priceless.

“We’ve never had a probe this close to the sun, so the measurements that scientists on the ground are now evaluating have never been encountered before.”

The immense wealth of data finished downloading on May 6 – a little over a month after the spacecraft reached its second perihelion – and includes invaluable information on the sun’s atmosphere, also known as the solar corona, as well as its magnetic field and the solar wind (the stream of particles coming from the sun and which floods the entire solar system), as recorded by the probe’s four science instruments.

All of the information gathered by the Parker Solar Probe during its first two perihelia will be made public later this year. Coupled with measurements made by other satellites and the already available scientific models, the data will help us further our knowledge of the sun and of how it affects all of the objects in the solar system, including planet Earth.

Illustration of NASA's Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun.
  NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben / Wikimedia Commons/Resized

The good news is that there’s more to come. Since the spacecraft performed so well, stunning scientists with its first data delivery, the APL team has made good use of the higher downlink rate and instructed the spacecraft to send down an additional 25 GB of science data, NASA announced on Twitter.

“As we learned more about operating in this environment and these orbits, the team did a great job of increasing data downloads of the information gathered by the spacecraft’s amazing instrument,” said Nickalaus Pinkine, a mission operations manager at APL.

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The bonus data has already begun downloading on July 24 and is expected to be delivered in full by August 15 – just three days after the Parker Solar Probe celebrates its one-year anniversary.

Soon after that, the spacecraft will begin its third close approach to the sun on August 27, hitting the third perihelion on September 1. Nearly four months after that, on December 26, the probe will be swinging by Venus for its second gravity assist maneuver as it prepares to zip around the sun in an even tighter orbit.

The mission is designed to last for seven years and will see the probe perform a total of 24 flybys of the sun, penetrating through the solar corona on its final loop around our star. Throughout the duration of its mission, the spacecraft will be inching closer and closer to the sun until it finally reaches its last planned orbit of just 3.8 million miles from the star’s visible surface in 2024.