Observations Around Solar System With Parker Solar Probe’s 7th Solar Encounter


Mar 5, 2021

During Parker Solar Probe’s seventh swing by the Sun, culminating in its closest solar approach, or perihelion, on Jan. 17, 2021, celestial geometry posed a special opportunity. The configuration of this particular orbit placed Parker Solar Probe on the same side of the Sun as Earth — meaning that Earth-bound observatories could observe the Sun and its outpouring of solar wind from the same perspective as Parker’s. This comes on the heels of a similar observation campaign in the winter of 2020.

“Along with the global science community, the Parker Solar Probe team can’t wait to see this new data,” said Nour Raouafi, the Parker Solar Probe project scientist from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. “Combining it with contributions from observatories around the globe will help us to put Parker observations in a broader context and build a complete picture of the phenomena observed in the solar atmosphere.”

Read on for snapshots from a few missions that observed the Sun and the solar system during Parker Solar Probe’s seventh solar encounter.


Credits: JAXA/NASA/Hinode

These images were captured by the X-ray Telescope, or XRT, aboard the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s and NASA’s Hinode spacecraft. XRT watches the Sun in X-rays, a high-energy type of light that reveals the extremely hot material in the Sun’s atmosphere, the corona. These images from XRT were captured on Jan. 17, when Parker Solar Probe was closest to the Sun. Scientists can use XRT’s images with Parker Solar Probe’s direct measurements of the environment around the Sun to better understand how the Sun’s corona could drive changes in the space environment farther away from the Sun.

Solar Dynamics Observatory

Credits: NASA/SDO

NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, or SDO, keeps a constant eye on the Sun from its vantage point in orbit around Earth. SDO captures images of the Sun in extreme ultraviolet light — a type of light that is invisible to our eyes — and visible light, as well as magnetic maps of the Sun. SDO’s data can help scientists understand the connection between conditions on the Sun and what is measured in the solar wind by spacecraft like Parker Solar Probe.

These images were captured in 211 angstroms, a wavelength of extreme ultraviolet light emitted by material at around 3 million degrees Fahrenheit. This wavelength highlights both active regions — seen as bright spots in the image — and coronal holes, areas of open magnetic field on the Sun from which high-seed solar wind can rush out into space. Coronal holes appear as dark areas in this wavelength of light.


Credits: NASA/IRIS

NASA’s Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph, or IRIS, captures images of the lower regions of the Sun’s atmosphere in ultraviolet light, along with spectra that break down how much light is visible across different wavelengths. These images, captured on Jan. 17, show an active region on the Sun, an area of intense and complex magnetic fields that is prone to explosions of light and solar material. This particular active region was targeted for IRIS observations based on model predictions that suggested that magnetic field lines from this region could be ones Parker Solar Probe would cross and measure during its solar encounter.

The images cycle through different wavelengths of light — corresponding to views of different heights above the solar surface — to reveal features in various regions of the Sun’s structure. This imagery shows features from the solar surface to a few thousand miles above at the top of the chromosphere, a region of the Sun’s atmosphere that interfaces with the extended solar atmosphere beyond.   


black-and-white map of Sun from GONG data
Credits: Global Oscillation Network Group/National Solar Observatory/AURA/NSF

The National Science Foundation’s Global Oscillation Network Group, or GONG, is a network of solar imagers distributed around the globe. They make use of the Zeeman effect — how light splits into multiple wavelengths under the influence of a magnetic field — to create magnetic maps of the solar surface. This video shows GONG’s magnetic maps, updated hourly, from Jan. 12-23, 2021. The black areas represent areas where the magnetic field is pointing in towards the Sun’s surface, and white areas are where the magnetic field is pointing out into space.

As the solar wind streams out from the Sun, it carries the solar magnetic field with it. But identifying precisely which regions on the Sun are the source for solar wind measured by spacecraft like Parker Solar Probe is a challenging task for several reasons: The Sun rotates, solar wind leaves the Sun at varying speeds, and strong magnetic fields near the Sun can change the solar wind’s path as it flows out. 

The Parker Solar Probe team uses GONG’s magnetic maps, along with data from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, to make predictions of which regions on the Sun are sending out material and magnetic field lines toward the spacecraft. Drawing these connections between the Sun itself and the solar wind that Parker Solar Probe is measuring directly can help scientists trace how conditions on the Sun propagate out into space.


A trio of NASA’s THEMIS spacecraft — short for Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms — orbit Earth to measure particles and electric and magnetic fields in near-Earth space. THEMIS’ data helps researchers untangle the complicated factors that govern the response of near-Earth space to dynamics in Earth’s magnetic field, changes in the Sun’s constantly outflowing solar wind, and activity on the Sun. 

These measurements were taken by THEMIS-E, one of the spacecraft in orbit around Earth, on Jan. 20. It takes about two to three days for solar wind to cross the tens of millions of miles from the Sun to Earth, so the solar wind conditions observed by Parker Solar Probe during its close solar approach on Jan. 17 did not begin to influence near-Earth space until about Jan. 19-20.

Stacked plots of measurements show changing conditions throughout the day

THEMIS-E began the day traveling through the Van Allen radiation belts — concentric bands of charged particles nested in Earth’s magnetic field — as it approached Earth. THEMIS-E then traveled back outward through the radiation belts. Both transits through the radiation belts are reflected in the areas of intense coloring in the lower left part of the plot at the beginning of the day.

Mid-morning, THEMIS-E left Earth’s magnetic field and entered the magnetosheath — the region just outside the outermost Sun-facing boundary of Earth’s magnetic field where solar wind piles up as it collides with Earth’s magnetic field. Throughout the day, gusts in the solar wind temporarily pushed the boundaries of the magnetosphere Earthward, meaning that THEMIS-E repeatedly left and re-entered the magnetosheath. For about 15 hours — until its orbit carried it back into the magnetosphere late in the day — THEMIS-E alternately observed the unperturbed solar wind outside the magnetosheath and piled-up solar wind in the magnetosheath. The undisturbed solar wind observed by THEMIS-E was a bit slower than usual, but also about twice as dense as typical solar wind — observations also confirmed by NASA’s Advanced Composition Explorer and Wind spacecraft, which orbit further upstream between the Sun and Earth.

By Sarah Frazier
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.

Last Updated: Mar 5, 2021

Editor: Sarah Frazier

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March 6, 2021 2:54 am

Interesting, but at the moment sun is very quiet, there isn’t much going on, even in a year or two may not be much action, since we may be entering another Grand Minimum.

Last edited 1 year ago by vuk
Reply to  Vuk
March 6, 2021 3:01 am

SC25 has been struggling to take off, after couple of promising months it is now back where it was at the start of this minimum about 3 years ago. At this rate if the SC25 is about to make any impact, it needs to get going soon, the last (SC24) maximum was in February 2014. All indications are that SC25 will be low and long.

Last edited 1 year ago by vuk
Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Vuk
March 6, 2021 7:11 am

”may be” but not likely

Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
March 6, 2021 7:51 am

SC25 started just over a year ago, but this appears not a cycle bursting with latent energy. Have to wait and see, but my money is on a low cycle.

March 6, 2021 3:09 am

… open magnetic field on the Sun from which high-seed solar wind can rush out into space.

Once again we have a science writer not a scientist so I would take anything from the article with a grain of salt. I realize that high-seed is probably just a typo but why wasn’t it caught and fixed? It makes one wonder about what other bloopers lie hidden in the text.

Maybe I’m over sensitive but it’s routine that we see science stories written by professional writers that make the scientists, whose work is being described, look like idiots.

Reply to  commieBob
March 6, 2021 4:01 am

Not much new in those images. Mentioning solar surface if anyone wonders what the ‘surface’ looks like, here is view recorded by Inouye Solar Telescope a year or so ago. Each of these bubbles is about size of Texas and mile or two high
see also

Last edited 1 year ago by vuk
Michael S. Kelly
March 6, 2021 4:22 am

The surface of the Sun is at about 6,000 K, which is very hot. But it’s a dry heat.

Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
March 6, 2021 1:57 pm

HOW ABOUT THOSE SMALL SOLAR FLARES FIRST SEEN RECENTLY AND NAMED “CAMPFIRES”? The recent high resolution images revealed the flares which sort of uniformly appear on the sun’s surface.

Tombstone Gabby
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
March 6, 2021 9:33 pm

After the US Civil War, General Sherman became the Chief of the Army. He made a tour of army installations in the west. In Tucson, Arizona Territory, someone remarked that all Arizona needed was a little less heat and a little more rain. Sherman replied, “That’s all Hell needs”.

At those Army posts that had a telegraph line, the operator on duty was supposed to send in a midday temperature reading. As one autobiography related, “A hundred yard walk out and a hundred yards back, in the sun. It feels like 113 degrees – and that’s what I’d send.”

March 6, 2021 6:09 am

An anal probe was sent to Penn State University and no signs of intelligent life were found.

On the outer Barcoo
Reply to  Scissor
March 6, 2021 11:26 am

Bummer …

Bryan A
Reply to  On the outer Barcoo
March 6, 2021 1:53 pm

I’ll wager the Mannorhoids were screaming indignation though

March 6, 2021 7:39 am

Sorry for OT, but worth looking

A space hurricane over the Earth’s polar ionosphere
AbstractIn Earth’s low atmosphere, hurricanes are destructive due to their great size, strong spiral winds with shears, and intense rain/precipitation. However, disturbances resembling hurricanes have not been detected in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Here, we report a long-lasting space hurricane in the polar ionosphere and magnetosphere during low solar and otherwise low geomagnetic activity. This hurricane shows strong circular horizontal plasma flow with shears, a nearly zero-flow center, and a coincident cyclone-shaped aurora caused by strong electron precipitation associated with intense upward magnetic field-aligned currents. Near the center, precipitating electrons were substantially accelerated to ~10 keV. The hurricane imparted large energy and momentum deposition into the ionosphere despite otherwise extremely quiet conditions. The observations and simulations reveal that the space hurricane is generated by steady high-latitude lobe magnetic reconnection and current continuity during a several hour period of northward interplanetary magnetic field and very low solar wind density and speed.

Last edited 1 year ago by Krishna Gans
Richard G.
Reply to  Krishna Gans
March 6, 2021 10:14 am

Not off topic at all. This observation ties into the solar wind investigations referenced in the topic article. Note how electrical terminology is creeping into the discussions of solar science.

Reply to  Richard G.
March 6, 2021 1:25 pm

“Note how electrical terminology is creeping into the discussions of solar science”

All these images use the photoELECTRIC effect.
“The photoelectric effect refers to what happens when electrons are emitted from a material that has absorbed electromagnetic radiation.”
Photoelectric Effect: Explanation & Applications | Live Science

Light is small packets of electrons we call photons.

The only reason were here on Earth is because of the processes that are going on beneath our feet.
Earth’s magnetic field is vital to life on our planet. It is a complex and dynamic force that protects us from cosmic radiation and charged particles from the Sun. The magnetic field is largely generated by an ocean of superheated, swirling liquid iron that makes up the outer core around 3000 km beneath our feet. Acting as a spinning conductor in a bicycle dynamo, it creates electrical currents, which in turn, generate our continuously changing electromagnetic field.
Swarm probes weakening of Earth’s magnetic field (phys.org)

What is electricity?
Electricity is a form of energy. Electricity is the flow of electrons.
By Mary Bellis
Mary Bellis
Inventions Expert
Updated September 24, 2018
Explainer: What is Electricity? (thoughtco.com)

Richard G.
Reply to  jmorpuss
March 8, 2021 11:55 am

“electric current

  • the movement of electrically charged particles, atoms, or ions, through solids, liquids, gases, or free space; the term is usually used of relatively smooth movements of electric charge through conductors, whether constant or variable. Sudden movements of charge are usually referred to by other terms, such as spark or lightning or discharge. In metallic conductors the electric current is usually due to movement of electrons through the metal. The current is measured as the rate of movement of charge per unit time, and is counted in units of amperes. As a formal definition, the direction of movement of electric current is considered as the same as the direction of movement of positive charge, or in a direction opposite to the movement of negative charge. Electric current may move constantly in a single direction, called direct current (abbreviated DC), or may move alternately in one direction and then the opposite direction, called alternating current (abbreviated AC).” – Wordnik

Pretty much describes Solar Wind moving through the heliosphere ‘space’ and interstellar medium moving through interstellar ‘space’.

Reply to  Krishna Gans
March 6, 2021 10:56 am

What a solar storm had to do with Vietnam war? Recently declassified info says …

Reply to  Vuk
March 6, 2021 11:08 am

Unfortunately my SPE (Solar Proton Event, pfu @ >10 MeV) database only starts in 1976, so I can’t look it up 🙁

Last edited 1 year ago by Krishna Gans
Reply to  Krishna Gans
March 6, 2021 12:09 pm
Reply to  Vuk
March 6, 2021 1:22 pm

SPE data
in case you are interested

Last edited 1 year ago by Krishna Gans
William Astley
March 6, 2021 12:34 pm

I would be concerned if and when the sun produces a very, very, large anomalous sunspot.

It is an observational fact that the lifetime, size, and magnetic field strength of sunspot groups ….. has collapsed.

As solar cycle 24 progressed, the magnetic field strength of the magnetic flux that rises up to the surface of the sun to form sunspots started to continually and unexplainably decrease.

This is a collapse/change of the mechanism in the sun that produces the magnetic flux that rises to the surface of the sun to form the sunspot group. There has been zero discussion of this fact in this forum or in the scientific community which is odd.

A change to the sun is a big deal. The scientific community has shutdown/hid the discussion of possible solar changes.

Most of the tiny sunspot groups that the sun now produces cannot be seen visually. This tiny failed sunspot groups have a lifetime of a few days.

This new class of sunspot group (weak failed sunspots) accounts for more than half of the sunspot group produced by the sun.
In past solar cycles sunspot groups’ had a lifetime of 22 days. Now sunspot groups that are large enough to be seen visually (and to be counted via the observational method of counting sunspots using a small telescope, to be consistent with past sunspot measurements) have a lifetime of around 5 to 10 days, as the sunspot group is made up tiny sunspot pores, rather than large sunspots.

Based on the Paleo record and astronomical observations (the astronomical stellar observations are not discussed publicly) we should be looking for a large anomalous sunspot, after a period of no sunspots.

One of the interesting things that some solar size stars do as they age…. Is get one big super sunspot that last for about a year. This super sunspot covers up to 12% of the surface of the star… And from time to time the super large sunspot shoots out a massive flare.
It is an observational fact, unexplained warming cyclic warming, has happened. The earth warms cyclically for 20 to 30 years (Dansgaard-Oeschger cycle named after the guys how discovered the warming) and then it cools. The sun causes the change.


“A Pervasive Millennial-Scale Cycle in North Atlantic Holocene and Glacial Climates by Gerard Bond, William Showers, Maziet Cheseby, Rusty Lotti, Peter Almasi, Peter deMenocal, Paul Priore, Heidi Cullen, Irka Hajdas, Georges Bonani

Evidence from North Atlantic deep sea cores reveals that abrupt shifts punctuated what is conventionally thought to have been a relatively stable Holocene climate.

During each of these episodes, cool, ice-bearing waters from north of Iceland were advected as far south as the latitude of Britain. At about the same times, the atmospheric circulation
above Greenland changed abruptly.

Pacings of the Holocene (Holocene is the name for this Interglacial period) events and of abrupt climate shifts during the last glaciation are statistically the same; together, they make up a series of climate shifts with a cyclicity close to 1470 plus/minus 500 years (William: Plus/minus in the case of the Bond cycle is 950 years, 1470 years, and 1950 year cycles).

The Holocene events, therefore, appear to be the most recent manifestation of a pervasive millennial-scale climate cycle operating independently of the glacial-interglacial climate state.”

The paper quoted below notes there has been 342 natural warming periods, all of which were followed by cooling periods, in the last 250,000 years in the Antarctic Peninsula ice sheet data.

The periodicity of the southern hemisphere warming and cooling is the same as the periodicity of the northern hemisphere which points to something that can change both hemispheres at once (it is the sun).
Davis and Taylor: “Does the current global warming signal reflect a natural cycle”

…We found 342 natural warming events (NWEs) corresponding to this definition, distributed over the past 250,000 years …. …. The 342 NWEs contained in the Vostok ice core record are divided into low-rate warming events (LRWEs; < 0.74oC/century) and high rate warming events (HRWEs; ≥ 0.74oC /century) (Figure). … …. “Recent Antarctic Peninsula warming relative to Holocene climate and ice – shelf history” and authored by Robert Mulvaney and colleagues of the British  Antarctic Survey ( Nature , 2012, doi:10.1038/nature11391),reports two recent natural warming cycles,  one around 1500 AD and another around 400 AD, measured from isotope (deuterium) concentrations in ice cores bored adjacent to recent breaks in the ice shelf in northeast Antarctica. ….
As this paper notes there is a highly precise periodicity of the past climate changes. An internal earth driven system would be chaotic. The precise periodicity and the fact that there are cosmogenic isotope changes at each and every cooling event, means the sun is causing the temperature and other changes… small, medium, and very large.
Timing of abrupt climate change: A precise clock by Stefan Rahmstorf
Many paleoclimatic data reveal a approx. 1,500 year cyclicity of unknown origin. A crucial question is how stable and regular this cycle is. An analysis of the GISP2 ice core record from Greenland reveals that abrupt climate events appear to be paced by a 1,470-year cycle with a period that is probably stable to within a few percent; with 95% confidence the period is maintained to better than 12% over at least 23 cycles. This highly precise clock points to an origin outside the Earth system (William: Solar changes cause the warming and cooling); oscillatory modes within the Earth system can be expected to be far more irregular in period. </blockquote>

Reply to  William Astley
March 6, 2021 1:40 pm

That Rahmstorf refers to cycles make me wonder, but the last link doesn’t exist.
But that link exists:

Last edited 1 year ago by Krishna Gans
William Astley
Reply to  Krishna Gans
March 6, 2021 4:13 pm

Hi Krishna.

This is a link to Rahmstrof’s paper.


William Astley
Reply to  Krishna Gans
March 6, 2021 5:26 pm

There is hard paleo evidence that the indicates/proves the sun is causing cyclic abrupt geomagnetic changes.

The paleo evidence that the geomagnetic field is changing, cyclically rapidly and correlated with abrupt climate change is now unequivocal.

CO2 did cause the recent warming. What is happening now to the sun and the earth was happened before.

The evidence is something (and it is the sun) is abruptly changing the geomagnetic field and it is the geomagnetic field change, that cause the long-term climate change on the earth, in addition to the normal solar cycle modulation of GCR.
An example of these, is the geomagnetic excursion that correlates with the Younger Dryas abrupt climate change.
The geomagnetic specialists note in the PBS Nova 2001 documentary that is linked to below that the North pole drift velocity increased by a factor of ten, from 15 km/yr to 55 km/yr starting in the mid 1990s ….

…. Same documentary shows the 100,000 fired tiles that were analyzed to find out the geomagnetic north pole abruptly has changed in location, multiple times in the past, at the same time there is an abrupt climate change in the North hemisphere.

This finding of abrupt changes to the geomagnetic field is not explained as to cause only that it happened.
And the South Atlantic Geomagnetic field anomaly suddenly increased in size and strength and speed moving west.
In the last 10 years, it has been found that the North geomagnetic pole has been abruptly changing in location, (roughly every 500 years) at the same time that there are climate changes. The geomagnetic poles region has very high GCR. Normally when the pole is high latitude and the cloud effect is mitigated due to dry cold air.

When the North pole move south and towards Europe there is cooling.

What Caused Recent Acceleration of the North Magnetic Pole Drift?
The north magnetic pole (NMP) is the point at the Earth’s surface where the geomagnetic field is directed vertically downward. It drifts in time as a result of core convection, which sustains the Earth’s main magnetic field through the geodynamo process. During the 1990s the NMP drift speed suddenly increased from 15 kilometers per year at the start of the decade to 55 kilometers per year by the decade’s end. This acceleration was all the more surprising given that the NMP drift speed had remained less than 15 kilometers per year over the previous 150 years of observation.
The Younger Dryas abrupt cooling period, started 12,900 years ago, at a time when solar summer insolation at 65N was maximum.
The planet at 12,900 years ago when from interglacial warm to glacial cold with 70% of the cooling occurring in less than a decade. The planet remained cold for 1200 years, at which time the geomagnetic strengths and the planet warms.
Also, we wish to recall that evidence of a correlation between archeomagnetic jerks and cooling events (in a region extending from the eastern North Atlantic to the Middle East) now covers a period of 5 millenia and involves 10 events (see f.i. Figure 1 of Gallet and Genevey, 2007). The climatic record uses a combination of results from Bond et al (2001), history of Swiss glaciers (Holzhauser et al, 2005) and historical accounts reviewed by Le Roy Ladurie (2004). Recent high-resolution paleomagnetic records

The paleo records show that interglacial climates have all terminated with abrupt geomagnetic excursions.

A geomagnetic excursion is what happened at the same time as the Younger Dryas abrupt climate change, 12,900 years ago. At which time the climate went from interglacial warm to glacial cold, with 70% of the cooling occurring in less than a decade and the cooling lasting for 1200 years.
Is the geodynamo process intrinsically unstable?
Recent palaeomagnetic studies suggest that excursions of the geomagnetic field, during which the intensity drops suddenly by a factor of 5-10 and the local direction changes dramatically, are more common than previously expected. The `normal’ state of the geomagnetic field, dominated by an axial dipole, seems to be interrupted every 30 to 100 kyr; it may not therefore be as stable as we thought.
Recent studies suggest that the Earth’s magnetic field has fallen dramatically in magnitude and changed direction repeatedly since the last reversal 700 kyr ago (Langereis et al. 1997; Lund et al. 1998). These important results paint a rather different picture of the long-term behaviour of the field from the conventional one of a steady dipole reversing at random intervals: instead, the field appears to spend up to 20 per cent of its time in a weak, non-dipole state (Lund et al. 1998).
aleomagnetic excursions
“Every magnetic excursion event corresponds to paleointensity minima, anteceding those established abrupt paleoclimatic change events, such as the Younger Dryas and the Heinrich Events (H1–H6). Here, we tentatively propose that these geomagnetic excursions/reversals can be viewed as precursors to climate abruptness.
During the transitional stages when the earth’s magnetic field shifted between a temporal normal and a negative period, the earth’s magnetic paleointensity fell correspondingly to a pair of minima. “

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  William Astley
March 7, 2021 6:23 pm

The evidentiary distance between “indicates” and “proves” in science is immense.

Reply to  William Astley
March 8, 2021 6:52 pm

The main acceleration of the north magnetic pole started in the 90’s.

Magnetic north and the elongating blob

“However, since the 1990s, this drift has turned into more of a sprint – going from its historic wandering of 0–15 km a year to its present speed of 50–60 km a year.” 

“Phil Livermore, from the University of Leeds, said, “By analysing magnetic field maps and how they change over time, we can now pinpoint that a change in the circulation pattern of flow underneath Canada has caused a patch of magnetic field at the edge of the core, deep within the Earth, to be stretched out. This has weakened the Canadian patch and resulted in the pole shifting towards Siberia.”

In the late 90’s is when they discovered that a volcano had erupted in the Arctic ocean on Gakkel Ridge, which lead to the finding of even more volcanoes and vents up there.

Also, in the late 90’s was when in Solar Cycle 23 the solar magnetic field began its decline. Earth is coupled with that magnetic field.

And in the late 90’s Earth began to increase its rotational speed.comment image

There would appear to be shifts in the liquid core around the northern polar region over the period.


Weylan R McAnally
Reply to  William Astley
March 9, 2021 3:18 pm

These changes to the geomagnetic field would seem to be visually evidenced by increased global volcanic activity during times of low solar activity. It would make sense that changes in the solar magnetic fields during low solar activity would impact the Earth’s magnetic fields. One magnetic field will always impact another nearby field.

March 6, 2021 2:10 pm

“A telluric current (from Latin tellūs, “earth”), or Earth current, is an electric current which moves underground or through the sea. Telluric currents result from both natural causes and human activity, and the discrete currents interact in a complex pattern. The currents are extremely low frequency and travel over large areas at or near the surface of the Earth.”
Telluric current – Wikipedia

These Earth and ocean electric currents are what drive evaporation and weather patterns.

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