Data from the Parker Solar Probe's record-breaking approach to the sun is finally being beamed back to scientists on Earth.
NASA held a press conference on Thursday, Dec. 13, to discuss what scientists hope to learn from the mission. The U.S. space agency also released a photo captured by the solar probe when it is merely 16.9 million miles from the sun, its closest approach to date.
Close Encounter With The Sun
"Heliophysicists have been waiting more than 60 years for a mission like this to be possible," stated Nicola Fox, the director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA's Washington HQ. "The solar mysteries we want to solve are waiting in the corona."
Heliophysics is the study of the sun and how it affects the space around Earth and other planets in the solar system. From Oct. 31 to Nov. 11, the Parker Solar Probe completed its first solar encounter phase, reaching the sun's outer atmosphere or corona.
This image from Parker's WISPR instrument was taken on Nov. 8 when the spacecraft was just 16.9 million miles from the Sun!It shows a coronal streamer, a structure of solar material. The bright object is Jupiter, and the dark areas are results of background correction. pic.twitter.com/rsREIDHbyI — NASA Sun & Space (@NASASun) December 12, 2018
Parker Solar Probe's Mission
According to NASA, the solar probe started beaming back data to Earth earlier this month. However, the transfer will not be completed until around April.
Scientists expect to answer three major questions about the sun: how is the corona hotter than the surface, how is the solar winds accelerated too quickly, and how some of the most energetic particles of the Sun rocket away at more than half the speed of light. The Parker Solar Probe is equipped with scientific equipment that can answer these questions.
The mission of the solar probe will continue in the next couple of years. Its next close encounter with the Sun is scheduled to happen by the first half of 2019.