University of Minnesota scientists are part of mission to ‘touch the sun’

Susie Jones
August 12, 2018 - 10:35 am


Experiments designed by University of Minnesota physicists and colleagues across the country will fly to the sun aboard NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. Researchers and their colleagues make up the FIELDS team, one of four teams chosen to design suites of scientific instruments for the Parker Solar Probe.

The University issued a press release saying that the probe will explore the star’s corona (atmosphere) to solve its two biggest mysteries. The first quest is to find the mechanism that heats the corona to more than 100 times the temperature of the solar surface. The second is to identify the coronal dynamo that accelerates subatomic particles from the sun’s surface to speeds up to a million miles per hour and spews them out in a 3-D stream that bathes the solar system. That phenomenon is known as the solar wind.

“It’s a dream mission,” said space physicist Keith Goetz, the principal investigator for the University’s Parker Solar Probe team. “It’s the most interesting thing in space physics. Understanding how nature works is our big thing in physics, but so is understanding how the world around us works.”

The Parker Solar Probe will fly to the region of the corona where solar wind particles are accelerated; data collected there will help explain the genesis of the solar wind, making it easier to predict and take precautions against its strongest gales.

NASA named the probe for solar physicist Eugene Newman Parker, who, among other revolutionary contributions, predicted the discovery of the solar wind.