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 Marks Seventh Successful Swing...
    by Sarah Frazier on January 21, 2021 at 8:00 pm

    There are lots of eyes on the Sun this week, as NASA’s Parker Solar Probe swings around our star on the seventh of its 24 scheduled orbits. None are closer than Parker Solar Probe, which passed just 8.4 million miles (13.5 million kilometers) from the Sun’s surface while flying at 289,932 miles per hour (466,600 …

  • Parker Solar Probe Gears Up for Seventh Solar Pass
    by Sarah Frazier on January 15, 2021 at 8:07 pm

    NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will make its next close approach to the Sun on Jan. 17, 2021, during its seventh science-gathering orbit around our star. At its closest approach to the Sun, called perihelion, the spacecraft will reach about 8.4 million miles (13.5 million kilometers) from the Sun’s surface, while traveling at a speed of …

  • Data from Parker Solar Probe’s Fifth Orbit Now...
    by Sarah Frazier on November 17, 2020 at 6:04 pm

    Data from Parker Solar Probe’s fifth orbit around the Sun is now available to the public. This latest batch of science data was collected by Parker Solar Probe’s four instrument suites this past summer, and covers the mission’s fifth solar encounter — including closest approach to the Sun, called perihelion, on June 7— and a …

  • Parker Solar Probe ‘Phones Home’ After Sixth...
    by Sarah Frazier on September 30, 2020 at 6:32 pm

    Zooming away from the Sun, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe checked in with its operators on Earth early on Sept. 30, 2020, letting them know it’s healthy and operating normally after another record-setting close approach to our star on Sept. 27. Flight controllers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, received a “Status …

  • Parker Solar Probe Speeds toward Record-Setting...
    by Sarah Frazier on September 25, 2020 at 8:34 pm

    Propelled by a midsummer flyby of Venus, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has started yet another record-setting, science-gathering swing around the Sun, its sixth flyby of our star. Some instruments on the spacecraft have been turned on since late August, collecting data on the near-Sun environment and the solar wind as it streams from our star. …

Find out more about the Sun