Parker is an important step for NASA, which wanted to investigate the sun's corona for decades at close range. However, the technology to protect a probe in this environment did not exist until recently. It is not intuitive, but the ionized plasma corona around the sun is much hotter than the surface of the star. NASA estimates that the corona is around one million Kelvin, 300 times hotter than the surface.
NASA developed an advanced heat shield consisting of 4.5-inch carbon composite foam sandwiched between two carbon fiber plates to keep Parker safe. However, it was impossible to know for sure how it would work until the probe reached our local star. Nour Raouafi, a scientist at the Parker Solar Probe project at Johns Hopkins University, says the spacecraft is "developing better than expected" after passing through the corona for the first time.
A picture of Parker's WISPR instrument of the Corona. Parker made the pass through the corona between October 31 and November 11. The researchers were happy to see that Parker could stay in the same plasma bag for several days during the transit, which means he can collect more data than we can on Earth. As the sun turns, the plasma is dragged around them, making remote monitoring of the structures over time difficult. The heat shield, which prevents Parker from smelting, also interferes with the data transfer, so Parker still needs some orbits to return all new data.
It will be some time before NASA collects all the data it receives from Parker. The team hopes to learn more about how the sun's magnetic field works and now the "weather" around the earth is working. Parker has already returned some cool pictures. The above shot taken with the WISPR instrument shows a coronal streamer with Mercury as a bright spot. NASA expects more to be reported after the probe's next run in April 2019. Parker will make a total of 24 passes through the corona and be within a distance of 3.8 million kilometers from the surface.