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 …

  • New Wave of Parker Solar Probe Science Published
    by Sarah Frazier on February 5, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Researchers using Parker Solar Probe data released a new wave of research papers in a special supplement of The Astrophysical Journal on Feb. 3, 2020. The supplement, titled Early Results from Parker Solar Probe: Ushering a New Frontier in Space Exploration, includes some 47 papers with new findings based on the mission’s first three solar …

  • Parker Solar Probe Reports Successful...
    by Sarah Frazier on February 1, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is healthy and operating as designed following its fourth close approach to the Sun, called perihelion, on Jan. 29. Mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, received a “status A” beacon from the spacecraft at 5:20 a.m. EST on Feb. 1. Status A is the best …

  • Parker Solar Probe Completes Fourth Closest...
    by Sarah Frazier on January 29, 2020 at 3:30 pm

    At 4:37 a.m. EST on Jan. 29, 2020, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe broke speed and distance records as it completed its fourth close approach of the Sun. The spacecraft traveled 11.6 million miles from the Sun’s surface at perihelion, reaching a speed of 244,225 miles per hour. These achievements topple Parker Solar Probe’s own previous …

  • 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 …

Find out more about the Sun