Parker Solar Probe—Our Names in the Stars

Alyssa Luongo

The Parker Solar Probe will explore one of the last and most important regions of our Solar System.

Eugene N. Parker, a solar astrophysicist predicted the existence of solar wind in 1958. At a young age, Parker was able to see that the sun’s atmosphere is highly dynamic and static. He coined the term “solar wind” to describe the catastrophic boiling and ejection of heat from the sun. Like many other astronomers, he faced much dispute when introducing his ideas. Solar science was not well understood during this time, and Parker’s findings were denied for nearly a year.


60 years later, the Parker Solar Probe will be launching with groundbreaking heat shield technology from Cape Canaveral in Florida, in order to finally explore the depth of our closest star. Solar activity is still not well understood. The Parker Solar Probe attempts to clear the leftover questions from NASA’s Ulysses mission, which was launched in 1990. Some of these questions include understanding the sun’s magnetic field lines. Different theories attempt to explain the exit of solar wind into space. The Parker Solar Probe will help us clear up these theoretical explanations and get a closer look at our closest star than ever before. The Parker Solar Probe is revolutionary in many ways. Launching August 12, 2018, it will send more than 1.1 million names to the sun.


What’s in a name? Our stories, our experiences, our worlds… is a name enough to capture who we really are? The names on this probe represent hopeful explorers and science enthusiasts. We introduce ourselves the best way we know how, we gather names of the people who drive the next triumphs in astronomy and dive into the unknown. As humans we are constantly evolving and learning. Every interaction, and every experience guides us to learn and grow. It is quite beautiful that we follow this algorithm just as any object in the universe does. When two stars collide, they are no longer the same as they were before. Gravity, temperature, mass, and pressure are all skewed by this interaction. The names on this probe are not just the people powering the next big discovery. The names on this probe could be the next Astronaut on Mars, a genius who unravels the mysteries of Dark Matter, an engineer who creates revolutionary technology for aerospace. These hopeful possibilities are driven by the names on this probe, the support and passion for space, and every scientific discovery, no matter how small. We must remember that space exploration is always something to celebrate. We continue to grow as a culture that values the truth about our world and our universe. Some might say putting our names on a probe that will eventually explode is useless, but I believe it represents so much more than just names. In the famous words of Carl Sagan, “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us -- there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.”

#OurNamesInTheStars


Sources

[1] N. Obridko, V & Vaisberg, Oleg. (2017). On the history of the solar wind discovery. Solar System Research. 51. 165-169. 10.1134/S0038094617020058.\

[2] Garner, Rob. “Parker Solar Probe and the Birth of the Solar Wind.” NASA, NASA, 30 July 2018, www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2018/parker-solar-probe-and-the-birth-of-the-solar-wind.

[3] The Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics | Eugene N. Parker, astro.uchicago.edu/people/eugene-n-parker.php.

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