Today the Parker Solar Probe can be Named for Him. 60 Years Ago, No One Believed His Ideas About the Sun.

Eugene N. Parker predicted the existence of solar wind in 1958. The NASA spacecraft, scheduled to launch on Saturday, can be the first named for a living person.

Eugene N. Parker, second right, visiting the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in October in Laurel, Md., where NASA’s Parker Solar Probe was being assembled.CreditEd Whitman/NASA/Johns Hopkins APL
Kenneth Chang

CHICAGO — This kind of was 1958. Sputnik had launched only a year earlier, the first human-made object to circle the planet. yet the beach ball-size spacecraft had no instruments to measure anything in space.

The study of what was up there was largely limited to what scientists could observe through the ground. This kind of certainly looked like the vast expanses between planets were empty. in addition to also that will can be what most scientists believed.

yet not Eugene N. Parker, then a 31-year-old, no-name professor at the University of Chicago. In a foundational paper published within the Astrophysical Journal, Dr. Parker described how charged particles streamed continuously through the sun, like the flow of water spreading outward through a circular fountain.

Almost no one believed him.

“The prevailing view among some people was that will space was absolutely clean, nothing in This kind of, total vacuum,” Dr. Parker recalled during an interview at his home.

The scientists who had reviewed the paper rejected his idea as ludicrous. Dr. Parker appealed to the journal’s editor, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, a prominent astrophysicist also at Chicago, arguing that will the reviewers had not pointed out any errors, just that will they did not like the premise.

Dr. Chandrasekhar overruled the reviewers.

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Four years later, Dr. Parker was vindicated when Mariner 2, a NASA spacecraft en route to Venus, measured energetic particles streaming through interplanetary space — exactly what Dr. Parker had predicted.

Scientists at This kind of point call that will stream of particles the solar wind.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will fly through the punishing heat of the sun’s outer atmosphere.Published On

Sixty years after Dr. Parker’s paper, NASA can be about to launch a spacecraft that will can be to dive into outer wisps of the sun’s atmosphere in addition to also gather information about how our star generates the solar wind.

This kind of can be the Parker Solar Probe, named after Dr. Parker, at This kind of point 91 years old. This kind of can be the very first time that will NASA has named a mission for a living person.

Dr. Parker, two decades into his retirement through the University of Chicago, can be frailer at This kind of point than when he made a trip to the North Pole with his son Eric in 2004. His apartment here, overlooking the Museum of Science in addition to also Industry, can be decorated with some of his intricate wood carvings.

He still gets around. Last October, he traveled to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where the spacecraft was built, for a “Parker, meet Parker!” encounter.

Image
Dr. Parker rejected the notion that will space was a clean, empty vacuum, positing that will charged particles were constantly emanating through the sun.CreditJoshua Lott for The brand-new York Times

that will led to solar physics. “I discovered This kind of was a fascinating subject,” Dr. Parker said.

Since the 1800s, scientists did know that will at least sometimes explosions through the surface of the sun affected Earth. that will included one on Aug. 29, 1859. that will day, two English amateur astronomers, Richard Carrington in addition to also Richard Hodgson, independently observed a “white light flare” emanating through the surface of the sun. Less than a day later, Earth’s magnetic field was knocked awry. Across America in addition to also Europe, telegraph wires sparked in addition to also failed.

Fewer than 18 hours elapsed between the flare in addition to also the geomagnetic storm on Earth. that will meant whatever had exploded off the sun must have traveled at more than 5 million miles per hour.

An image made by NASA’s STEREO mission in 2016 showing solar wind. The image was processed to remove some background noise.CreditCraig DeForest, SwRI

Scientists had no idea what that will might be.

Comets provided another clue. The tail of gas in addition to also dust coming through a comet does not flow behind the comet as one might expect, yet instead its direction always points away through the sun.

A German astronomer, Ludwig Biermann, suggested that will particles emitted through the sun — what he called solar corpuscular radiation — were shaping the comet tails. (“Corpuscular” can be a fancy word that will means “consisting of tiny bits of something.”)

“that will can be an important piece of information,” Dr. Parker said. “All comet tails have This kind of property so in all directions at all times, the sun can be emitting something or various other.”

Dr. Parker’s crucial insight was that will This kind of flow of particles would likely follow the same dynamics as wind in addition to also water.

The calculations showed that will the flow began slow near the sun in addition to also accelerated as This kind of moved farther away, passing Earth at supersonic speeds. “that will definitely stuck in people’s craw,” he said.

that will can be what he wrote down in his 1958 paper. “This kind of was widely disbelieved,” Dr. Parker said. “I even had people say, ‘Well, you know, This kind of was a great idea, too bad This kind of was wrong.’ I said, ‘I don’t see why This kind of’s wrong.’”

The skepticism did not worry him. Fluid dynamics can be a direct derivation through Newton’s laws of motion.

After Mariner 2, “everyone agreed the solar wind existed,” Dr. Parker said.

Light bar testing of the Parker Solar Probe at the Astrotech processing facility in Titusville, Fla., in June.CreditGlenn Benson/NASA
Left, the probe being encapsulated for delivery to the Delta IV Heavy rocket, right, at Cape Canaveral, which will take This kind of into space.CreditLeft, Leif Heimbold/NASA; Right, Ben Smegelsky/NASA

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While Dr. Parker moved on to various other problems in astrophysics, a close-up visit to the sun has been on NASA’s to-do list since the 1950s. Over the decades, various sun-watching spacecraft have observed the sun, yet always through a distance.

In 2005, at NASA’s request, engineers at Johns Hopkins Applied Research Laboratory in Laurel, Md. proposed the Solar Probe, a mission that will would likely swoop within 1.8 million miles of the sun. yet This kind of would likely have cost more than $1 billion at the time in addition to also This kind of required a plutonium power source that NASA didn’t want to use. Because of the intense heat, the mission would likely have been over after two flybys.

NASA sent the engineers back to see if they could trim the cost tag to under $750 million in addition to also eliminate the plutonium. To do that will, the spacecraft would likely not fly as close. yet that will had a major benefit; the spacecraft would likely make 24 orbits instead of two, gradually moving inward, in addition to also gather much more data.

NASA gave the go-ahead in addition to also renamed the revised concept Solar Probe Plus.

Earlier NASA missions have been given brand-new names shortly before or after launching to honor scientists or noteworthy people in NASA’s history. Last year, Dr. Parker got a phone call through Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science directorate, saying that will NASA wanted change the name to Parker Solar Probe.

Dr. Parker said he was surprised in addition to also seemed bemused that will NASA was asking for his permission.

“I said, ‘Of course, I don’t mind,’” Dr. Parker said.

The data through the Parker Solar Probe could help explain the remaining mysteries of how the sun works, in particular how the sun’s atmosphere — the corona — reaches millions of degrees Fahrenheit while the surface of the sun can be a relatively cool 10,000 degrees.

Dr. Parker can be curious about the data yet does not expect to come up with the answers. “I’ve retired,” he said, “so someone else can swipe that will one.”

Dr. Parker with an image of solar wind, circa 1977.CreditUniversity of Chicago