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 …

  • Short Maneuver Targets Parker Solar Probe for...
    by Sarah Frazier on October 1, 2021 at 1:45 pm

    On Sept. 29, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed a quick maneuver that positioned the spacecraft for a flyby of Venus next month. The maneuver, monitored from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, lasted just five seconds and trimmed the spacecraft’s velocity by 9.7 centimeters per second, or …

  • Successful Ninth Solar Flyby for Parker Solar...
    by Sarah Frazier on August 13, 2021 at 4:22 pm

    On Aug. 13, 2021, at 5:50 a.m. EDT, mission controllers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Maryland, received a “tone one” beacon from Parker Solar Probe, indicating that all systems were healthy and operating normally after the spacecraft’s ninth close approach to the Sun on Aug. 9. During this close pass …

  • Parker Solar Probe Speeding through Latest...
    by Sarah Frazier on August 6, 2021 at 9:06 pm

    NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is speeding busily through its ninth science-gathering solar encounter, heading toward a close approach of the Sun on Aug. 9 that will take it to within about 6.5 million miles (10.4 million kilometers, or 14.97 solar radii) of the solar surface. That matches the record-distance of its last closest approach (called …

  • Parker Solar Probe Ushers in New Science on the...
    by Sarah Frazier on June 3, 2021 at 5:54 pm

    Scientists using data from NASA’s Parker Solar Probe released a new collection of research papers in a special issue of the journal Astronomy & Astrophysics on June 2, 2021. The issue, titled Parker Solar Probe: Ushering a New Frontier in Space Exploration, includes 37 papers on discoveries made during mission’s first four orbits around the Sun. …

  • Course Correction Points Parker Solar Probe to...
    by Sarah Frazier on May 19, 2021 at 7:46 pm

    NASA’s Parker Solar Probe executed a small maneuver on May 15, 2021, that corrected the trajectory errors from a gravity-assist flyby of Venus in February — and put the probe on newly optimized path for its next Venus gravity assist on Oct. 16. The maneuver, monitored from the mission operations center at the Johns Hopkins …

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