Halfway through a series of opportunists Venus observations, scientists say the success of a NASA solar spacecraft studying our strange neighbor will pave the way for future measurements.
NASA Parker Solar Probe launched in August 2018 on a seven-year mission to touch the sun, dancing through the crown of our star, the superphoto atmosphere of the sun, which is invisible but forms conditions across the solar system. This mission requires a trajectory crawling closer to the visible surface of the sun with each fliby, achieved by a series of seven swings past Venus. So, before Parker Solar Probe launched, atmospheric scientists argued why the spacecraft’s scientific instruments should be turned on while Venus fliby. Now, after just four of those Venus maneuvers, the success of the project may show a new way to study Venus.
“I was just really impressed with how excited people are for some observations at Venus,” Shannon Curry, a planetary physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, told Space.com.
Related: NASA’s Parker Solar Probe captures an amazing Venusian photo while flying close
Venus is home to only one full-time robot explorer at present, that of Japan Akatsuki mission, and the planet has received surprisingly few recent spacecraft visitors, considering that the world is only adjacent to Earth. So scientists have jumped at this opportunity for new observations.
Because Parker Solar Probe is optimized to study the sun, not a planet, the success of the project in collecting this additional Venus data may show the feasibility of using clever mission operational techniques to turn trajectory maneuvers into scientific opportunities. United States-European Solar Orbiter spacecraft and the European-Japanese BepiColombo a mission to Mercury also requires Venus flibs to direct themselves to their destinations, and Curry said she and colleagues are working with both mission teams to guide possible observations based on how similar instruments on Parker Solar Probe acted.
“We give each other a head like‘ That’s what to look for, that’s how you can get the best science, ’” Curry said. “We’ve all gotten into the cart a little bit. Let’s do these fly calculations.”
However, because the instruments that scientists “borrow” to observe Venus are small enough, similar equipment could also find a home in adult Venus missions to round out scientists ’understanding of the phenomena that Parker Solar Probe and others can study only briefly. .
“A lot of these particle and field instruments are pretty lightweight,” Curry said. “These are kinds of shameless claims to say, like,‘ Hey, it’s not that hard to add to this. “”
NASA is not committing to any Venus-specific spacecraft right now, but there are many possible missions to the planet seriously discussed, including two projects NASA might choose later this spring and mission concepts that Europe, India and the U.S. company have. Rocket Laboratory reflects. Scientists have also estimated what they could learn from a Venus mission on the scale of NASA’s so-called “major missions”, such as its Mars spacecraft.
A dedicated Venus spacecraft tends to focus on questions about the planet’s surface and thick atmosphere, rather than unraveling how the planet’s atmosphere interacts with its surroundings and with the sun, as Parker Solar Probe does.
But the distinction between studying Venus and studying its relationship with the surrounding environment is not as clear as everything. For example, if scientists want to learn about, for example, how the Venus atmosphere and its possible habitability may have changed according to the history of the planet, it is useful to know what ingredients in its modern atmosphere glide in interplanetary space, and how fast.
And that’s the kind of observation Parker Solar Probe has progressed, Curry said.
Research on a small scale
In particular, she was pleased with the data collected by the survey on what types of charged particles travel in the transition zone between the Venusian atmosphere and interplanetary space and how fast those particles move. Previous missions, such as NASA Pioneer Venus Orbiter and the European Space Agency Venus Express, studied these charged particles, but could only assess their identity and velocity. Instead, Parker can identify particular tastes of ions and measure their movements.
“We have a much, much better picture,” Curry said of Parker Solar Probe’s new observations compared to data from much older dedicated Venus missions. “It’s similar to those photos in the 1900s, where things get a little blurry and everyone sits very, very still. And now we actually have like-minded iPhone photos.”
Parker Solar Probe’s observations also revealed a multitude of tiny, short-lived phenomena in the electric and magnetic fields of Venus. “These are really, really, really tiny things,” Curry said of these detections. “But we actually have like a microscope out there with which we can get to understand such things, and we’ve never had anything like that.”
Moreover, some of these observations are the first detections of such phenomena elsewhere in the world Earth. Curry said such discoveries should help scientists begin to understand what is unique in our world and what may actually be common throughout the solar system.
So far Parker Solar Probe paints a picture of magnetic and electric fields, charged particles from the sun and the planet, and other phenomena interacting in a way very different from what scientists expected, which was a straight tear-shaped bubble. .
“We now know that it’s a significantly more complex and complicated interaction,” Curry said, “in a very good way, as in a fun, complicated way.”
Meanwhile, Parker Solar Probe still has three more Venus flibys of its own to execute: one in October, then a pair in 2023 and 2024. The last fliby, in November 2024, will take place near the end of the Parker Solar Probe mission and near the top of the solar cycle, and it will pull the spaceship into the bubble-like arch shock surrounding Venus, just as the two most recent fly tubes did.
“[Flyby number] seven will only be an animal, “Curry said.” I’m very excited about it. “
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