NASA Names Next Year Suicidal Solar Plunge After Living Scientist Eugene Parker

NASA’s first mission to go to the sun and make a suicidal plunge into the chimney-like star next year  has been renamed the Parker Solar Probe honoring Eugene Parker who first theorized that the sun constantly sends out a flow of energy particles called the solar wind. This is the first time NASA named its mission after a living scientist.

The Solar Probe Plus spacecraft was renamed at a ceremony at the University of Chicago, where Parker serves as the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In 1958, Parker joined as a young professor at the university’s Enrico Fermi Institute and published
her article in the Astrophysical Journal titled “Dynamics of the interplanetary gas and magnetic
fields.” Parker theorized that the high speed matter and magnetism constantly escaping the sun has been affecting the planets in our solar system.

This phenomenon, now called the solar wind, has been proven to exist. “This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

Excited about the solar probe, Parker said:“The solar probe is going to a region of space that has
never been explored before. It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look… I’m sure that there
will be some surprises. There always are.”

Parker Solar Probe is a spacecraft is expected to solve many of the largest mysteries about our star,
including finding out why the sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface.

illustration of Parker Solar Probe

NASA’s first mission to go to the sun, the Parker Solar Probe, is named after Eugene Parker who first theorized that the sun constantly sends out a flow of particles and energy called the solar wind. Credits: NASA/APL

NASA missions are usually named after launch and certification but in this case, given Parker’s
accomplishments in his research, NASA has decided to rename the mission after him prior to its launch next year summer.

Born on June 10, 1927, in Michigan, Eugene Newman Parker graduated in physics from Michigan State University and a doctorate from Caltech. He then taught at the University of Utah, and has held faculty positions at the University of Chicago and at its Fermi Institute.

Parker was honoured with numerous awards, including the George Ellery Hale Prize, the National Medal of Science, the Bruce Medal, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Kyoto Prize, and the James Clerk Maxwell Prize.

Parker Solar Probe will be launched during a 20-day window that opens on July 31, 2018 and it will observe Sun from a distance before plunging into the solar falre to get as closer to the star as possible.

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