NASA probe shares first up-close look at sun’s atmosphere

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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has made the closest-ever approach to a star (the sun) and shared an image of the sun’s atmosphere on Twitter on Wednesday.

NASA’s image, captured Nov. 8, shows the corona, which is the sun’s outer atmosphere when the spacecraft was just 16.9 million miles from the star.

The Parker Solar Probe’s WISPR instrument took the photo, in which Jupiter is seen as the bright object, according to NASA.

The spacecraft also broke records for the fastest space probe, as it sends data back from its first solar encounter, Science News reported.

Scientists gathered Wednesday at the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington, DC, to speak about the data, the report said.

“What we are looking at now is completely brand new,” solar physicist Nour Raouafi said at a news conference, according to Science News.

“Nobody looked at this before,” said Raouafi, who also works at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.

The spacecraft launched Aug. 12 and will make 24 close passes by the sun over the next seven years, Science News reported.

The mission’s goal is to help solve the mystery of why the corona is about 300 times as hot as the sun’s surface, the report said.

The outer atmosphere could reach temperatures of millions of degrees, while the sun’s surface or photosphere could be around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to BBC Science, but the mechanisms that produce the super-heating are not fully understood, the report said.

“We need to go into this region to be able to sample the new plasma, the newly formed material, to be able to see what processes, what physics, is taking place in there,” said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA in Washington, DC, according to the BBC.

Raouafi also said of the Parker Space Probe that, “We are almost certain we’ll make new discoveries.”

Earlier this month, NASA’s InSight Mars Lander snapped its first selfie from the surface of the Red Planet.

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