You may have heard by now that NASA's Parker Solar Probe made history this year, being the first spacecraft to "touch the Sun". Well now there is footage of the probe whizzing through the Sun's corona, and to say it is breathtaking is the understatement of the year. And yes, that is the Milky Way, as seen through the Sun's "atmosphere", special guest starring.
Parker is no stranger to epic firsts and breaking records. This year it broke the distance record to become the closest human-made object to the Sun at just 8.5 million kilometers (5.3 million miles) from the Sun's surface. It also smashed its own record to again be the fastest human-made object of all time.
Its latest historic milestone, however, comes with video footage. Take a ride through the Sun's corona, Milky Way and all.
Not being solid, the Sun lacks an unambiguous boundary as to where it stops and space begins. The corona is referred to as the Sun's atmosphere and represents the region in which solar material is constrained by gravity and magnetic fields. This point is known as the Alfvén critical surface and marks the end of the solar atmosphere and the beginning of the solar wind. Until now, scientists weren't exactly sure where the Alfvén critical surface lay.
It was estimated to be 6.9 to 13.8 million kilometers (4.3 to 8.6 million miles) from the Sun's surface. On April 28, 2021, at 13 million kilometers (8.1 million miles) above the Sun's surface, Parker encountered the magnetic and particle conditions that told NASA scientists it had crossed the Alfvén critical surface for the first time and finally entered the solar atmosphere.
As it screeched its way through the Sun's upper atmosphere at around 142 kilometers per second (88 miles per second) it sampled particles and magnetic fields there, at some point dipping down as low as 10.4 million kilometers (6.5 million miles) from the Sun's surface. It also took lots of images that scientists back on the ground stitched together into this incredible video. You can see the Milky Way peeking out from behind highly energized particles and structures in the corona called streamers zipping by.
It's not just an awesome video though. What Parker Solar Probe finds there, and as it wings its way even closer in the next few years, will change what we know about our star forever.