NASA's Parker Solar Probe has reached a major milestone. It has completed its first loop around the sun and now began the second of its 24 planned orbits
First Loop Around The Sun
The spacecraft had its first close flyby of the sun in November when it approached the star at a distance of about 15 million miles.
On Jan. 19, it reached its aphelion point, or the farthest orbital distance from the sun, and has now started its orbital trip. It is expected to reach the next perihelion, or the closest point to the sun, on April 4.
The spacecraft will fly by at a similar distance on its second pass but in future orbits, it will get closer and closer to the sun. By the final flyby in late 2025, it will dive within just 3.83 million miles of the sun.
On its future flybys, scientists hope that the mission could shed more light on the inner workings of the sun and how it accelerates solar matter at high speed. The mission could also eventually provide the answer to why the star's outer atmosphere, the corona, is much hotter than its surface.
Preparing For The Next Encounter With The Sun
In preparation for the probe's next solar encounter, the Parker Solar Probe team is emptying files that have already been transmitted to Earth, and loading it with new, automated command sequence that contains about a month's worth of instruction. The probe is also getting updated positional and navigational information.
Since its launch on Aug. 12, the mission already delivered 17 gigabits of science data. NASA expects it to transmit the full observation from the first orbit by April.
"We've always said that we don't know what to expect until we look at the data," said project scientist Nour Raouafi, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.
"The data we have received hints at many new things that we've not seen before and at potential new discoveries. Parker Solar Probe is delivering on the mission's promise of revealing the mysteries of our Sun."