Professor Justin C. Kasper; Michigan Institute for Research in Astrophysics; University of Michigan
“First Discoveries by Parker Solar Probe”
Abstract: For centuries solar eclipses have provided brief glimpses of the solar corona, the remarkably structured atmosphere that surrounds the Sun and spreads through interplanetary space as the solar wind. Today, the Sun and the corona are tracked continuously by observatories on Earth and in space. We know much more about solar activity and the impact space weather can have on society than ever before, but we have not been able to answer fundamental questions about the Sun. Why is the corona millions of degrees hotter than the visible surface of the Sun? How does the corona drive a supersonic solar wind? How are solar flares and eruptions able to produce storms of radiation? In August 2018 the Parker Solar Probe was launched, making history as the first spacecraft to fly through the extended atmosphere of the Sun in order to directly observe the extreme environment responsible for superheating the solar corona and accelerating the solar wind. Observations from the first two encounters with the Sun are being released to the public this week. In this talk we will review the scientific case for the mission, how we designed a spacecraft and instruments that can survive a close encounter with the Sun, and some of our initial discoveries from these first encounters.