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Parker Solar Probe Images Remarkable Vortex from Sun

April 21, 2024 (EIRNS)—The latest update posted by NASA on April 7 noted that the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) “completed its 19th close approach to the Sun on March 30, matching its own distance record by coming about 4.51 million miles (7.26 million kilometers) from the solar surface.”

The PSP was launched on Aug. 12, 2018, and was named in honor of Dr. Eugene Parker (1927-2022), who was present at its launch. The probe is on track for its closest encounter with the Sun on Dec. 24, when it will dip just 3.8 million miles from the solar surface, moving about 430,000 miles per hour with a gravity-assist from Venus. The spacecraft has made many stunning discoveries and videos of solar behavior, and the most recent was posted in late March. At that time, its special camera, the Wide-field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR), captured images of turbulence from a coronal mass ejection (CME) interacting with the solar wind.

The turbulence resembled a monstrous tornado, or vortex, and these structures are called Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities (KHI). As the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory explained it: “Such structures have been imaged in the terrestrial atmosphere as trains of crescent wave-like clouds and are the results of strong wind shear between the upper and lower levels of the cloud. This phenomenon, while rarely imaged, is thought to occur regularly at the interface of fluid flows when the right conditions arise.

“‘We never anticipated that KHI structures could develop to large enough scales to be imaged in visible light CME images in the heliosphere when we designed the instrument,’ said Angelos Vourlidas, PhD, JHUAPL and WISPR Project Scientist.

“‘These fine detail observations show the power of the WISPR high sensitivity detector combined with the close-up vantage point afforded by Parker Solar Probe’s unique Sun-encounter orbit,’ said Mark Linton, PhD, head, NRL Heliophysics Theory and Modeling Section and Principal Investigator for the WISPR instrument.

“‘The turbulence that gives rise to KHI plays a fundamental role in regulating the dynamics of CMEs flowing through the ambient solar wind. Hence, understanding turbulence is key in achieving a deeper understanding of CME evolution and kinematics,’ said [Evangelos] Paouris.

‘By extension, this knowledge will lead to more accurate forecasting of the arrival of CMEs in Earth’s vicinity and their effects on civilian and DOD space assets, thus safeguarding society and the warfighter.’”

Additionally, since similar vortices also occur in fusion reactions on a much smaller scale, further research may contribute to progress of the creation of a sustainable fusion reaction for energy production on Earth.

The short video clip can be viewed on the Mashable website, and more information can be found on the Astrophysical Journal website.