The NASA Parker Space Probe has sent its first image back from the ‘inside of the sun'.
The probe made its close approach to the star several weeks ago and the data it gathered is now being received by the mission scientists.
The never before seen data opens a whole new world for scientists who have been waiting decades for such a mission to be launched.
Four of the missions researchers held a press conference on December 12 to give an update on the Probes mission and share what they hope to learn from the new data.
NASA scientists outline mission's purpose
"Helio Physicists have been waiting more than 60 years for a mission like this to be possible," said Nicola Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Heliophysics is the study of the Sun and how it affects space near Earth, around other worlds, and throughout the solar system.
"The solar mysteries we want to solve are waiting in the corona." The Parker Solar Probe completed its first solar encounter phase from Oct 31 to Nov 11, 2018.
The probe sped through the sun’s outer atmosphere, using its four scientific instruments on board to gather data.
That data began to be received to mission control on Earth on December 7, the full data set will be completed when the probe does another close flyby in April next year.
Scientists have shared an image from the flyby, captured by the Parker probe’s WISPR (Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe) when it was just 16.9 million miles from the sun.
A probe named after living physicist
The Parker probe is named for Eugene Parker, a physicist who first proposed the idea of solar wind back in 1958.
It is the first NASA mission to be named for a living scientist. "Gene Parker’s revolutionary paper predicted the heating and expansion of the corona and solar wind. "
"Now, with Parker Solar Probe we are able to truly understand what drives that constant flow out to the edge of the heliosphere,” said Fox.
The Parker probe is out to answer three main questions. How is the Sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, heated to temperatures about 300 times higher than the visible surface below?
Second — how is the solar wind accelerated so quickly to the high speeds we observe?
And finally, how do some of the Sun's most energetic particles rocket away from the Sun at more than half the speed of light?’
Scientists are prepared to be surprised by data
"Parker Solar Probe is providing us with the measurements essential to understanding solar phenomena that have been puzzling us for decades," said Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland.
"To close the link, local sampling of the solar corona and the young solar wind is needed and Parker Solar Probe is doing just that."
The NASA mission team expect to be surprised by what they learn from the Parker probe.
"We don't know what to expect so close to the Sun until we get the data, and we'll probably see some new phenomena," said Raouafi.
"Parker is an exploration mission — the potential for new discoveries is huge."
So far reports suggest the data collected from the parker probe is good science, analysis and research will begin but it won't be until after April next year that scientists will be able to emerge themselves in the full data set provided by the probe.