The first data received from NASA's Parker Solar Probe spacecraft reveals surprising details about the Sun and sheds light on how other stars may form and behave throughout the universe. The Parker Solar Probe was launched to space in August 2018, becoming the closest-ever spacecraft to the Sun. It completed three of 24 planned passes through never-before-explored parts of the Sun's atmosphere, the corona, NASA said in a press release. On Wednesday, four new papers were published in the journal Nature describing how the Sun constantly ejects material and energy. This information will be vital to protecting astronauts and technology in space, NASA said. It will be an important part of the U.S. space agency's Artemis program, which will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024 and, eventually, on to Mars. They reveal new insights into the processes that drive the solar wind - the constant outflow of hot, ionized gas that streams outward from the Sun and fills up the solar system - and how the solar wind couples with solar rotation. The first data from Parker reveals that though it may seem placid while viewed from Earth, the Sun is anything but quiet, said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA Headquarters in Washington. The Sun is magnetically active, unleashing powerful bursts of light, deluges of particles moving near the speed of light and billion-ton clouds of magnetized material. All this activity affects the earth, injecting damaging particles into the space where satellites and astronauts fly, disrupting communications and navigation signals, and even — when intense — triggering power outages. The mission's next solar encounter is scheduled for January 29, 2020, when the spacecraft comes closer to the Sun than ever before. It is expected to shed light on the understanding of what causes the solar wind and space weather around the earth and also help scientists understand a fundamental process of how stars work and how they release energy into their environment. During its initial flybys, Parker studied the Sun from a distance of about 15 million miles. The spacecraft will get even closer to the sun in the future, as it travels at a speed of more than 213,000 mph, faster than any previous spacecraft.
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