NASA puts Parkar Solar Probe in harm's way, exposes it to a dangerous solar flare; will it survive?

Parker Solar Probe recently completed its 13th close encounter with the Sun and NASA hopes it will get hit by a powerful solar flare.

| Updated on: Sep 07 2022, 13:05 IST
NASA: Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter makes astonishing discovery
1/6 The lunar pits found by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter have mild temperatures, drastically different from the extreme conditions on the surface of the Moon. The temperatures in these caves are nearly 17 degree Celsius almost at all times. (NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)
2/6 NASA Moon recently tweeted, "Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images of pits indicate that the Moon has caves. Could they become astronaut habitats? Scientists have discovered that parts of the pits are always about 63°F (17°C), differing from extreme temperatures at the Moon's surface". (NASA)
3/6 The surface temperatures on the Moon can go from an extremely high 127 degrees Celsius and as low as -173 degrees Celsius. "The pits, and caves to which they may lead, would make thermally stable sites for lunar exploration compared to areas at the Moon's surface, which heat up to 260 F (about 127 C) during the day and cool to minus 280 F (about minus 173 C) at night,” NASA Moon tweeted further. (NASA)
4/6 First discovered in 2009, these lunar pits could potentially be used as location for a first Moon Base. Not only are the temperatures moderate, but these pits could also provide protection against cosmic rays, solar radiation and micrometeorites, according to NASA. (AP)
5/6 LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center said, “Lunar pits are a fascinating feature on the lunar surface. Knowing that they create a stable thermal environment helps us paint a picture of these unique lunar features and the prospect of one day exploring them.” (NASA)
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6/6 The particular pit used to analyze the thermal properties by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter was in an area of the Moon known as the Mare Tranquillitatis. It is 100-meters deep and as wide as a football field. According to scientists, the overhang of the pit is responsible for creating shadows on the Moon and maintaining a temperature of nearly 17 degrees Celsius at all times. (NASA)
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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has been built to withstand the heat from close encounters with the Sun. (NASA)

Intriguingly, NASA hopes that its Parker Solar Probe will be hit by a solar flare in the near future even as it completed its 13th close encounter with the Sun yesterday, September 6. According to the space agency, the solar activity is already exceeding the expectations of scientists as the Sun slowly moves towards the peak of its 11-year solar cycle, which began in December 2019. Scientists expect solar activity to be at its peak in the year 2025 when the Sun is in the middle of its solar cycle.

Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland said in a NASA blog, “The Sun has changed completely since we launched Parker Solar Probe during solar minimum when it was very quiet. When the Sun changes, it also changes the environment around it. The activity at this time is way higher than we expected.”

NASA Parker Solar Probe to interact with a solar flare

NASA is hoping that its Parker Solar Probe encounters a solar flare. Scientists say that data from a solar flare has never been recorded by a probe that has gone through it. Therefore, by gathering this data, it will help scientists gain a new and a better understanding of solar flares. Raouafi further said, “Nobody has ever flown through a solar event so close to the Sun before. The data would be totally new, and we would definitely learn a lot from it.”

According to NASA, although the Parker Solar Probe has not flown through a solar flare before, its Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) has captured small Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) emitting from the surface of the Sun during its 10th close encounter with the Sun in November last year which has helped in making new discoveries about CMEs.

Even if the Parker Solar Probe flies through a solar flare, it will not get damaged as it was built to withstand the heat from the close encounters with the Sun. Doug Rodgers, APL's science operations center coordinator for the mission said in the NASA blog, “Parker Solar Probe is built to withstand whatever the Sun can throw at it. Every orbit is different, but the mission is a well-oiled machine at this point.”

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First Published Date: 07 Sep, 13:05 IST