Just over a month into its seven-year mission to touch the Sun, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has beamed back the first-light data from each of its four instrument suites, the US space agency said.
On September 9, Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe’s (WISPR) — the only imager on the probe — door was opened, allowing the instrument to take the first images during its journey to the Sun.
WISPR with both its inner and outer telescope snapped a blue-toned, two-panel image of space with stars visible throughout.
While the Sun is not visible in the image, it showed Jupiter.
Launched on August 12, Parker Solar Probe, NASA’s historic small car-sized probe will journey steadily closer to the Sun, until it makes its closest approach at 3.8 million miles.
“All instruments returned data that not only serves for calibration, but also captures glimpses of what we expect them to measure near the Sun to solve the mysteries of the solar atmosphere, the corona,” said Nour Raouafi, the probe’s project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Maryland.
While these early data are not yet examples of the key science observations that the probe is expected to transmit in December, it shows that each of its four instrument suites are working well.
The probe also sent data back from its three other instruments on board: ISoIS, FIELDS and SWEAP which are all dedicated to unravelling the mysteries of the Sun.
ISoIS’s (pronounced “ee-sis” and includes the symbol for the Sun in its acronym) two Energetic Particle Instruments — EPI-Lo and EPI-Hi — cover a range of energies for these activity-driven particles.
EPI-Lo’s initial data shows background cosmic rays, particles that were energised and came rocketing into our solar system from elsewhere in the galaxy.
Data from EPI-Hi shows detections of both hydrogen and helium particles from its lower-energy telescopes.
The FIELDS’ four electric field antennas on the front of the probe observed the signatures of a solar flare, while the SWEAP’s (Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons), three instruments caught glimpses of the solar wind.
The Parker Solar Probe’s first close approach to the Sun will be in November.
Over the next two months, it will fly towards Venus, performing its first Venus gravity assist in early October.
Throughout its mission, the probe will make six more Venus flybys and 24 total passes by the Sun.
The probe is named after Eugene Parker, a solar physicist, who in 1958 first predicted the existence of the solar wind, a stream of charged particles and magnetic fields that flow continuously from the Sun.