December 2, 2019
Launched on 12 Aug. 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is venturing closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft, mapping the last unvisited regions of the solar system. The spacecraft successfully incorporates technological breakthroughs to attain new science: PSP crossed a technological barrier by protecting sensitive spacecraft and payload components from intense solar photon radiation. Parker is primarily an exploration mission, and the data returned so far is a treasure trove that holds potential for breakthrough discoveries. It is breaking new boundaries of space exploration by flying halfway between Mercury and the Sun. Parker is writing a new chapter of space research by revolutionizing our understanding of this mysterious region by answering long-standing questions that puzzled scientists for decades: how the solar wind plasma is heated and accelerated and solar energetic particles accelerated and transported throughout the heliosphere.
On 11 Nov. 2019, PSP will have completed the first three of its planned 24 elliptical orbits around the Sun. These three orbits have the same perihelion (i.e., shortest distance to the Sun) of 25 million kilometers or 35.7 Rsun (Rsun = 1 solar radius = 695,000 km) from the center of the Sun, which occurred on 6 Nov. 2018, 4 Apr. 2019, and 1 Sep. 2019, respectively. The second Venus gravity assist will be performed on 26 Dec. 2019, after which the orbit perihelion will decrease to 27.8 Solar Radii. The analyses of science data from the first two orbits show new phenomena and plasma properties not seen before in the solar wind. I will provide an overview of the mission’s status after three solar encounters and the first discoveries as well as the outlook of the mission for the upcoming solar encounters.
Dr. Nour E. Raouafi is the Project Scientist of NASA Parker Solar Probe mission. He is a Ph.D. in Astrophysics (University of Paris XI, Orsay, France; Dec. 2000). Before joining the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in 2008, Dr. Raouafi worked at the Turin Observatory (Italy, 2001), the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Göttingen, Germany 2002-2005) and the National Solar Observatory (Tucson, Arizona: 2005-2008). His research spreads over a wide range of solar and heliospheric areas with an emphasis on the dynamic solar corona via the analysis of spectral and imaging observations, theory, and modeling. He contributed to diverse research areas, e.g., solar magnetic fields, spectroscopy, polarimetry, coronal plumes and jets, CMEs and coronal shock waves, solar wind, solar energetic particles, and cometary physics. He authored and co-authored tens of peer-reviewed papers and meeting proceedings.