NASA's Parker Solar Probe flew right through a massive solar eruption and caught the whole thing on camera. It's the first up-close footage ever captured of a solar explosion like this.
CMEs are large explosions of super-hot plasma that erupt from the Sun's atmosphere. They consist of charged particles that can trigger radio blackouts and cause other mayhem if they strike Earth.
NASA said that the CME that struck the Parker Solar Probe was "one of the most powerful coronal mass ejections ever recorded."
Lucky for those scientists currently studying the sun, NASA's Parker Solar Probe flew right through the CME and survived it, capturing the event on camera. (The eruption starts at around the 14-second mark in the clip below.)
According to Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, CMEs can fire magnetic fields sometimes expelling billions of tons of plasma anywhere from 60-to-1,900 miles per second.
As for the one last September, Parker "clocked particles accelerating up to 840 miles per second," according to Johns Hopkins. The data may help physicists understand what propels CMEs and sends particles careening at such high speeds.
The Parker Solar Probe's mission to touch the Sun
The Parker Solar Probe was designed specifically to study the Sun. Not only is it the fastest spacecraft in history, but it's also the one that can come closest to the sun, within 4 million miles of its surface, and survive the journey, according to NASA.
"We knew from the beginning that Parker Solar Probe would fly through CMEs," Jim Kinnison, the Parker Solar mission systems engineer at APL, said in a Johns Hopkins statement. So NASA designed the probe to withstand the scorching temperatures near the Sun.
The spacecraft is fitted with a custom heat shield as well as an autonomous system that protects the device from the Sun's light emissions, per NASA.
When Parker first detected the CME, it was about 5.7 million miles from the sun's surface.
Later, the probe traveled in the wake of the CME's shock wave. The Parker probe spent almost two days studying this one CME and came out unscathed, according to Johns Hopkins.
The role of space dust in CMEs
During the same CME, NASA researchers also looked at the way the storm affected interplanetary dust – particles floating around in space. They hope learning more about these interactions will help them better forecast space weather in the future.
"Does interplanetary dust affect the shape of a CME? Does it affect the speed of it? We're just starting to understand that it does," Russ Howard, a physicist at APL, said in a statement.
Parker has already given scientists a peek at other solar phenomena, including a glimpse at the source of "solar wind."
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