Parker Solar Probe – UPSC Prelims

Parker Solar Probe:
  • It is NASA’s mission to explore Sun’s outer atmosphere.
  • Aims:
    • To trace how energy and heat move through solar corona.
    • To explore what accelerates solar wind as well as solar energetic particles.
    • Determine structure and dynamics of magnetic fields at sources of solar wind.
    • Explore dusty plasma near Sun and its influence on solar wind and energetic particle formation.
  • It is a robotic spacecraft.
  • It is named after solar astrophysicist Eugene Parker, first spacecraft of NASA to be named after living person.
  • Launched in 2018.
  • In its seven-year mission, PSP will explore Sun’s outer atmosphere and make critical observations to answer questions about physics of stars.
  • Its data will also be useful in improving forecasts of major eruptions on Sun and subsequent space weather events that impact technology on Earth, as well as satellites and astronauts in space.
  • Parker Solar Probe has for the first time touched the sun. It is believed that it has crossed the Alfvén critical surface and finally entered the solar atmosphere.
What is Alfvén’s critical surface?
  • Unlike Earth, the Sun doesn’t have a solid surface. But it does have a superheated atmosphere, made of solar material bound to the Sun by gravity and magnetic forces. However, as rising heat and pressure push that material away from the Sun, it reaches a point where gravity and magnetic fields are too weak to contain it.
  • This point is known as the Alfvén critical surface. This point basically marks the end of the solar atmosphere and beginning of the solar wind.

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