Probe Flies Through, Photographs Solar Eruption

coronal mass ejection
Screengrab of Parker Solar Probe’s camera observes a massive coronal mass ejection on Sept. 5, 2022. | Image by NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Naval Research Lab

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has flown through one of our sun’s largest coronal mass ejections ever recorded.

Scientists say that the probe’s successful flight through the coronal mass ejection (CME) earlier this month is providing proof for a decades-long theory.

The Parker Solar Probe was originally launched aboard a Delta IV-Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral in August 2018. The probe is the space agency’s first mission to “touch” the Sun, flying only 3.8 million miles above its surface at a speed of 430,000 miles per hour at its closest approach, according to NASA.

The primary purpose of this craft is to discover the cause of solar wind and particle acceleration and to study how heat moves through the atmosphere of the Sun, the corona.

CMEs are large explosions of charged plasma and magnetic energy from the solar corona that can launch billions of tons of solar material into space, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

One of their much weaker and less destructive counterparts, a solar flare, recently impacted the Earth, causing a radio blackout in some portions of the planet in July, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

A paper published in 2003 posited a theory that CMEs not only interact with interplanetary dust around the Sun but can also carry it away. Parker’s latest passage through a CME has provided evidence for this theory.

Scientists were able to observe the interaction between interplanetary dust and CMEs by using the probe’s Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe camera. These interactions appeared as decreased brightness in the images because fewer light-reflecting interplanetary dust particles were present.

Guillermo Stenborg, lead author of the study, likened the CME to a “vacuum cleaner” as it cleared away the dust and particles. He and his team believe this phenomenon may only occur with powerful CME occurrences.

Scientists needed to compare images from several orbits to verify their findings.

“Parker has orbited the Sun four times at the same distance, allowing us to compare data from one pass to the next very well,” said Stenborg, according to a press release. “By removing brightness variations due to coronal shifts and other phenomena, we were able to isolate the variations caused by dust depletion.”

Scientists hope to use this new discovery to gain more insight into how fast CMEs travel and improve forecasting for solar weather.

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