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Parker Solar Probe images the launch of the solar wind

Image of a satellite in front of the surface of the Sun.

Enlarge / An artist’s depiction of the Parker Solar Probe, along with its subject. (credit: NASA)

The solar wind swarms with charged particles that can light up auroras, cause satellites to glitch, and damage electrical infrastructure on Earth. Despite its importance, we have a limited understanding of the forces that produce the wind, where it emerges from the Sun, and what accelerates it toward our planet.

Because the solar wind blasts outward with so much power, its immense strength has made it nearly impossible for spacecraft to see through the chaos and determine where it is generated—until now. NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was able to observe the Sun close enough to image the region where the solar wind originates. NASA scientists had previously predicted that it starts close to the surface and then gushes through “holes” in the Sun’s corona, the outer atmosphere, before being ejected into space. What Parker beamed back finally showed they were right.

A hole in the corona

“The fast solar wind that fills the heliosphere originates from deep within regions of open magnetic field on the Sun called ‘coronal holes,’” researchers from the Parker team said in a study recently published in Nature.

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