NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has been extremely busy over the past couple of years, becoming the first spacecraft to touch the Sun when it breached the Sun’s corona in December of 2021. Now, the small spacecraft has done the unthinkable yet again and ridden headfirst through a coronal mass ejection (CME).
CMEs are extremely powerful solar events that occur whenever energy within the Sun becomes too much, thus causing it to be released and jetted from the Sun’s surface. These massive bursts of energy are behind geomagnetic storms like those we sometimes see here on Earth, and they’re similar to solar flares, though not quite the same.
The fact that the Parker Solar Probe has now flown through a CME is exciting because the spacecraft spent a total of two days inside the CME at roughly 5.7 million miles from the solar surface. That’s an extremely close distance, as Parker sits even closer to our Sun than Mercury, which rests 23 million miles from the Sun.
A new paper revealed that Parker passed through the CME back in September, crossing through the wake of its leading edge – which is a massive shockwave. Parker’s Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) instrument captured the moment that the probe passed through the CME, and it has since been published on YouTube for the public to see.
The moments that the Parker Solar Probe passed through the CME are exciting, as well, because this is the closest to the Sun that we have ever observed an event such as this, Nour Raouafu, a scientist with the Parke Solar Probe project at the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) explained.
Being able to observe an event of this magnitude from this distance is not only hard to fathom, but it also shows just how well-designed the Parker Solar Probe is, being able to fly through such a powerful event and come out the other side in working order.