The right side of this image — from WISPR’s (Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe) inner telescope — has a 40-degree field of view, with its right edge 58.5 degrees from the Sun’s center. The left side of the image is from WISPR’s outer telescope, which has a 58-degree field of view and extends to about 160 degrees from the Sun. There is a parallax of about 13 degrees in the apparent position of the Sun as viewed from Earth and from Parker Solar Probe. Credit: NASA/Naval Research Laboratory/Parker Solar Probe
Just over a month into its mission, Parker Solar Probe has returned first-light data from each of its four instrument suites. These early observations – while not yet examples of the key science observations Parker Solar Probe will take closer to the Sun – show that each of the instruments is working well. The instruments work in tandem to measure the Sun’s electric and magnetic fields, particles from the Sun and the solar wind, and capture images of the environment around the spacecraft.
“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,” said Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland.
The mission’s first close approach to the Sun will be in November 2018, but even now, the instruments are able to gather measurements of what’s happening in the solar wind closer to Earth. Let’s take a look at what they’ve seen so far.
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NASA and Northrop Grumman have decided to delay the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, to allow time to address a quality issue with a vendor-supplied electrical connector on the launch vehicle. Northrop Grumman does not expect an extended delay and will work with the range to determine a new launch date. The ICON spacecraft will launch aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Where does Earth’s atmosphere end and space begin? This and other questions soon will be answered by our Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON, satellite that is launching in early October.
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Parker Solar Probe was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 37 on August 12, 2018 on its “Mission to Touch the Sun”. The APL Mission Operations and Instrument Teams are beginning the commissioning of the instruments on the spacecraft. Parker Solar Probe is rapidly moving toward its initial encounter with the sun and is now 16.36 million miles from the Earth and is traveling at 45,905 miles per hour, as of 1pm ET today, 9/6/18. The first of sevenVenus Gravity Assist flyby’s will happen on October 3rd 2018.
Want to track the spacecraft as it speeds towards the Sun?
Follow along: Stats update once an hour.
Without special instrumentation, the Sun looks calm and inert. But beneath that placid façade are countless miniature explosions called nanoflares.
These small but intense eruptions are born when magnetic field lines in the Sun’s atmosphere tangle up and stretch until they break like a rubber band. The energy they release accelerates particles to near lightspeed and according to some scientists, heats the solar atmosphere to its searing million-degree Fahrenheit temperature.
Finding the traces of nanoflares requires X-ray vision, and scientists have been hard at work developing the best tools for the job. The latest advance in this project is represented by NASA’s Focusing Optics X-ray Solar Imager, or FOXSI, sounding rocket mission, soon to take its third flight from the White Sands Missile Range in White Sands, New Mexico, no earlier than Sept.
Learn about the FOXSI 3 Mission
Auroras appear on Earth as ghostly displays of colorful light in the night sky, usually near the poles. Our rocky neighbor Mars has auroras too, and NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft just found a new type of Martian aurora that occurs over much of the day side of the Red Planet, where auroras are very hard to see.
Auroras flare up when energetic particles plunge into a planet’s atmosphere, bombarding gases and making them glow. While electrons generally cause this natural phenomenon, sometime protons can elicit the same response, although it’s more rare. Now, the MAVEN team has learned that protons were doing at Mars the same thing as electrons usually do at Earth—create aurora. This is especially true when the Sun ejects a particularly strong pulse of protons, which are hydrogen atoms stripped of their lone electrons by intense heat. The Sun ejects protons at speeds up to two million miles per hour (more than 3 million kilometers per hour) in an erratic flow called the solar wind.
This animation shows a proton aurora at Mars. First, a solar wind proton approaches Mars at high speed and encounters a cloud of hydrogen surrounding the planet. The proton steals an electron from a Martian hydrogen atom, thereby becoming a neutral atom. The atom passes through the bowshock, a magnetic obstacle surrounding Mars, because neutral particles are not affected by magnetic fields. Finally, the hydrogen atom enters Mars’ atmosphere and collides with gas molecules, causing the atom to emit ultraviolet light. (Courtesy NASA-GSFC/MAVEN/Dan Gallagher)
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The twin Van Allen Probes launched 6 years ago today! 🛰🚀🛰 These spacecraft are solving scientific puzzles about the dynamic, donut-shaped radiation belts around Earth, which teem with energetic particles that can affect our technology.
UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab Designed Built and Integrated two sets of identical instrument suites, one for each spacecraft. An Instrument suite comprised two 6 meter AXB’s or Axial Staceer Booms and four 50 meter SPB’s or Spin Plane Wire Booms and an Electronics Package.
NASA and Northrop Grumman are now targeting Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, for the launch of the agency’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer, or ICON. The spacecraft will launch aboard a Northrop Grumman Pegasus XL rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch window is 90 minutes starting at 4:00 a.m. EDT and ICON will be launching off the coast of Daytona at 39,000 ft. at a heading of 105.0 degrees. The June launch was postponed after off-nominal data was detected during the ferry flight of Pegasus. The root cause was traced to a faulty sensor, which has been replaced.
Article Courtesy of Anna Heiney, NASA ICON Mission