The NASA Solar Probe Parker flew through a coronal mass ejection (CME) while passing close to the sun in September 2022, providing valuable data for researchers to understand how the sun’s overheated plasma interacts with the surrounding interplanetary dust. According to NASA, this CME is one of the most powerful ever recorded. It is the first time that the probe has directly observed the interaction between CMEs and interplanetary dust particles floating in space.
Scientists have analyzed the data collected by the probe and have concluded that the CME cleared interplanetary dust at a distance of approximately 9.66 million kilometers from the sun. However, this area was quickly covered by more interplanetary dust. Although these interactions between CMEs and dust particles were theorized two decades ago, they had never been observed until now.
The Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) camera on the probe has shown images of the CME from the spacecraft. In the images, one can see how the peaceful space suddenly fills with bright light as the probe passes through the ejected solar material and interplanetary dust.
The Solar Probe Parker was launched in August 2018 and has been orbiting the sun since then, performing flybys of Mercury and Venus as it progresses. In 2021, the probe made its first direct contact with the sun’s corona and studied the solar wind earlier this summer. The next flyby of the probe will not occur until November 2024.
Source: NASA Press Release
– Coronal Mass Ejection (CME): an explosion in the sun’s corona that releases enormous amounts of plasma and charged particles into space.
– Interplanetary Dust: small dust particles floating in interplanetary space.
Image of the Parker Solar Probe during the flyby of the coronal mass ejection in September 2022