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FOR BILLIONS OF years, the sun has stashed its secrets in a maelstrom of energy called the solar corona. Stupefyingly hot and occasionally ultra-violent, this churning shroud of magnetised, million-degree plasma is a region that no spacecraft has dared explore—until now.

Today, four studies in the journal Nature report the first data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, an unprecedented mission that has been able to fly ever closer to the sun, three times so far, and taste its coronal breath. Already, these close encounters are solving some solar mysteries, and they’re revealing a treasure trove of unexpected findings.

The sun keeps the planets in its orbit. What would happen if it disappeared entirely? Learn about the star at the center of our solar system, and how it is critical to all life as we know it.

Such intimate observations will untangle basic conundrums in solar physics and could help us better predict harmful solar outbursts aimed at Earth. Called coronal mass ejections, these dangerous clouds of extremely energetic particles produce shimmering auroras that can bedazzle even mid-latitude skies, but they can also knock out communication satellites, take down power grids, and could be lethal for astronauts.

“People think about risks from space, and they often think about the meteor that kills the dinosaurs,” says study author David McComas of Princeton University. “But if you get a huge space weather event that knocks out a bunch of your technology, that’s a much bigger risk to us here today.”

Dec 06,19 |

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