The solar wind is the superhot, escaping atmosphere of the Sun that has its origin in the solar corona and expands past the outer planets to form the heliosphere. However, for lack of direct measurements, the physical processes responsible for coronal heating and solar wind energization are not currently well known. The NASA Parker Solar Probe (PSP) mission was launched in 2018 into an orbit that will take it deep into the corona to make the first in situ measurements of these plasma physics phenomena. PSP is a feat of heroic thermal engineering and in its orbit around the Sun is the fastest ever human-made object. I will describe the PSP mission and scientific instrumentation and show some measurements from the first few perihelia at 35.7 solar radii. These measurements reveal an emerging solar wind characterized by smooth radial flow, with highly unstable plasma distributions, punctuated by plasma jets dragging along intense, highly kinked magnetic fields. Whereas the solar wind at 1 au is very different - mixed, homogeneous, and relatively stable.
Speaker: Stuart Bale, UC Berkeley
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