A NASA solar probe “gracefully” flew past a powerful solar flare, helping scientists prove a decades-old theory, the agency announced this week. The fortified spacecraft not only survived the journey, but it also captured video of the rare event.
The Parker Solar Probe flew past the coronal mass ejection on September 5, 2022, NASA announced in a press release. Videos taken by the probe’s cameras show it rushing through the eruption.
NASA said the probe survived its flight “thanks to one of the most powerful coronal mass ejections (CMEs) ever recorded – not only an impressive technical feat, but a huge boon to the scientific community.”
are eruptions of plasma and in the outer atmosphere of the sun. They can cause space weather conditions that can endanger satellites and disrupt communications and navigation systems. Powerful CMEs can even destroy our planet’s power grids, NASA said.
“Like a vacuum cleaner”
Scientists have long hypothesized that CMEs could interact with interplanetary dust, made up of particles from asteroids, comets, etc., and transport them outward. The theory was first proposed in a 2003 paper. Guillermo Stenborg, an astrophysicist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and lead author of a paper discussing what the Parker Solar Probe taught scientists, said the probe showed exactly what was happening. It is difficult to observe dust patterns from a distance, so the probe provided a unique opportunity to study the phenomenon.
“These interactions between CMEs and dust were theorized twenty years ago, but had not been observed until Parker Solar Probe considered a CME to act like a vacuum cleaner, removing dust from its path,” he said. Stenborg said.
The CME observed by the probe “moved dust up to about 6 million kilometers from the Sun,” NASA said, although that dust was “almost immediately” replenished.
Learning more about how CMEs and space dust interact can help scientists better predict how fast CMEs might travel from the Sun to Earth and make better predictions about when they might arrive.
The Parker Solar Probe will continue its mission and travel through the sun’s atmosphere. The probe, launched in 2018, travels closer to the sun’s surface than any previous spacecraft.