Home Science Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter Unite to Unravel 65-Year-Old Sun Mystery

Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter Unite to Unravel 65-Year-Old Sun Mystery

In a groundbreaking collaboration, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe and the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Solar Orbiter have teamed up to tackle a 65-year-old mystery surrounding the Sun. The enigma in question is the Sun’s corona, which is inexplicably hotter than its surface. This collaboration has brought scientists closer to solving this longstanding puzzle, thanks to new measurements and observations.

The Age-Old Mystery

For over six decades, scientists have been puzzled by the Sun’s corona, the outer atmosphere, which is significantly hotter than the Sun’s surface. While the corona can reach temperatures as high as 18 million degrees Fahrenheit, the photosphere, located 1,000 miles below, only reaches around 10,800 degrees Fahrenheit. This discrepancy has baffled physicists and solar scientists alike.

The Collaboration

The Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter were able to make simultaneous observations of the Sun, thanks to some “spacecraft gymnastics” performed by the Solar Orbiter. This allowed the two spacecraft to indicate that turbulence is likely the cause of the corona’s incredible heat. Gary Zank, co-author of a study on the results, stated that this collaboration has opened up a new dimension in solar research.

The Science Behind It

The Solar Orbiter operates from a distance of around 26 million miles from the Sun, while the Parker Solar Probe gets up close, at around 4 million miles. The Solar Orbiter focuses on remote sensing, capturing broad details, whereas the Parker Solar Probe makes in-situ measurements for greater detail. Combining these two approaches provides a comprehensive view of the Sun’s activities.

The Breakthrough

On June 1, 2022, the two solar observatories found themselves in an ideal orbital configuration for collaboration. The Solar Orbiter performed a 45-degree roll and pointed slightly away from the Sun to align perfectly with the Parker Solar Probe. The data collected revealed turbulence that could be transferring energy in a manner that would explain the corona’s extreme heat.

Key Takeaways

  • The Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter have teamed up to solve a 65-year-old mystery about the Sun’s corona.
  • The collaboration involved simultaneous observations and measurements, indicating that turbulence is likely heating the Sun’s corona.
  • The breakthrough came when both spacecraft were in an ideal orbital configuration, allowing for precise data collection.


This unprecedented collaboration between the Parker Solar Probe and the Solar Orbiter has brought us one step closer to solving a mystery that has puzzled scientists for over six decades. The data collected points towards turbulence as a likely cause for the extreme heat of the Sun’s corona, potentially solving the so-called “coronal heating mystery.