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U.S. Naval Research Lab Telescopes Being Used in NASA Solar Probe

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory’s expertise with sun-viewing telescopes is being used in NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission to better understand how the sun affects our solar system.

The US Naval Research Laboratory's Wide-Field Imager for Solar Probe, or WISPR, was launched aboard NASA's Parker Solar Probe Aug. 11, 2018. Courtesy of US Naval Research Laboratory/Jamie Baker.

Launched in mid-August, the mission to "touch the Sun" is 60 years in the making and will bring a spacecraft carrying a suite of instruments closer than ever before to the Sun. NRL's Space Science Division's Wide-Field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) coronagraph telescope is the only imager. WISPR is built with telescopes that create a solar eclipse type image by blocking the actual sun, allowing its atmosphere, or corona, to be captured. These images show the sun's emissions, including streamers, plumes, and the energetic coronal mass ejections, that burst from the star.

Researchers say it’s not just the pictures that are important – it's where that energy goes. Understanding space weather, or how the Sun's atmosphere then flows through the solar system, is extremely important because it can have dramatic effects on communications, power, and other essential technologies that the U.S. Navy fleet relies on.

"What this mission is going to be able do is pin down exactly what the structure close to the sun is – the overall structure,” said Russell Howard, the NRL WISPR principal investigator. “We'll be able to image that. But also, there's an experiment that will measure the strength of the magnetic fields, the electric fields – the structure of the plasma we're running through."

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory provides advanced scientific capabilities for naval leadership.

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