Touch the Sun

Remember how Icarus wanted to touch the Sun, but met his demise instead?

Well, scientists at NASA wanted to touch the Sun too, but unlike Icarus, they succeeded!

Better yet, they are beginning to share what they learned by doing it!

Before we get into all of that, let’s go back and start at the beginning.

NASA launched a robotic spacecraft called the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) in 2018, and this video describes the probe’s audacious mission to “touch the Sun.”

Then NASA posted this 360° video about the probe’s launch that was narrated by Nicola Fox (Project Scientist at that time and now Director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division).

Since its launch, the probe has done a spectacular job of starting to achieve its scientific goals, and some of the first results were just released this week.

Here’s a quick teaser that NASA posted ahead of a press conference on Wednesday.

This video summarizes the key discoveries that NASA shared at the press conference.

Four articles about the results were also posted by the journal Nature ahead of their publication in the print edition on December 12th. This article introduces the articles and has links to them.
A step closer to the Sun’s secrets (Daniel Verscharen, Nature)

It’s awesome to know more about what makes that great glowing ball in the sky tick, but I also found myself a bit sad because the mission’s goals do not include sending back imagery for us Earthlings to enjoy. That means we still don’t know what it looks like to “touch the Sun.”

Perhaps it would look a bit like this 360° video of a simulation of the Sun that was posted by a hearty YouTuber way back in 2016.

That was cathartic to watch, but of course it wouldn’t sound like that because there is no “sound” in space. The actual experience would also be way, way more visually stunning.

We can be certain of that because, while the Parker Solar Probe doesn’t capture imagery, there’s another NASA mission called the Solar Dynamics Observatory that does. It doesn’t capture 360° videos, but what it does capture is far more dynamic than the simulation.

Here’s a video that the Solar Dynamics Observatory captured on June 18, 2015. This isn’t exactly how it would look because it’s been colorized in extreme ultraviolet wavelengths, but it still gives you a sense of the unbelievable majesty of the activity that you would see on the surface of our favorite star if you were able to go there in person.


How beautiful was that?!?!

Kudos to the scientists and engineers at NASA for having the audacity to find ways to go where no one has gone before and for communicating to us what it’s like there, too!

Check out the latest news from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe …

  • Parker Solar Probe Prepares for New Science, New...
    by Sarah Frazier on January 23, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    NASA’s Parker Solar Probe began its fourth solar encounter today at 9:00 a.m. EST, at a distance of about 23.3 million miles from the Sun’s surface. It will reach perihelion, its closest distance to our star, during this orbit on Jan. 29 at about 4:30 a.m. EST. The fourth perihelion will send the spacecraft within …

  • Parker Solar Probe Completes Second Venus Flyby
    by Sarah Frazier on December 26, 2019 at 10:00 pm

    On Dec. 26, Parker Solar Probe successfully completed its second flyby of Venus. The spacecraft used Venus to slow itself down, approaching the planet at a distance of about 1,870 miles from Venus’s surface during the second gravity assist of the mission. This gravity assist maneuver adjusted Parker Solar Probe’s trajectory to set it up …

  • Parker Solar Probe Heads Toward Second Venus Flyby
    by Miles Hatfield on December 23, 2019 at 3:23 pm

    After nearly 17 months in space culminating with the release of new science data, Parker Solar Probe is right on course for its second Venus gravity assist maneuver. This flyby will set the spacecraft up for its fourth perihelion of the Sun, during which it will set records for spacecraft speed and closest solar distance, …

  • First Parker Solar Probe Science Data Released to...
    by Sarah Frazier on November 12, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    On Nov. 12, 2019, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe team released scientific data collected during the spacecraft’s first two solar orbits to the general public. Data can be accessed through the NASA Space Physics Data Facility, the Solar Data Analysis Center, the APL Parker Solar Probe Gateway, and the Science Operation Centers of the four science …

  • Parker Solar Probe Completes Third Close Approach...
    by Sarah Frazier on September 3, 2019 at 2:30 pm

    At just before 1:50 p.m. EDT on Sept. 1, 2019, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed its third close approach of the Sun, called perihelion. At the time of perihelion, the spacecraft was about 15 million miles from the Sun’s surface, traveling at more than 213,200 miles per hour. Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins Applied …

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