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The first results to come down from NASA's record-setting Parker Solar Probe have impressed the pioneering astrophysicist who lent the spacecraft his name.
Yesterday (Dec. 4), mission team members published four studies reporting what the PSP observed during its first two close approaches to the sun. These perihelion passages were epic and audacious, taking the probe within a mere 15 million miles (24 million kilometers) of our star at blistering speeds that topped 200,000 mph (320,000 km/h).
Spacecraft - Sun
No spacecraft has ever gotten closer to the sun, or traveled so fast relative to it.
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PSP - Name - Eugene - Parker - Stream
The PSP takes its name from 92-year-old Eugene Parker, who in the 1950s controversially proposed that a stream of charged particles flows constantly from the sun. The existence of this stream, known as the solar wind, was confirmed shortly thereafter by spacecraft observations.
Parker, who's now an emeritus professor at the University of Chicago, made a number of other important contributions to our understanding of the sun during his long career — so many, in fact, that he's regarded as the father of modern heliophysics, said Nicky Fox, director of the Heliophysics Division at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Birth - Physics - Discipline - Fox - Yesterday
"He basically gave birth to an entire physics discipline," Fox said yesterday during a "NASA Live" event devoted to discussing the new PSP results. While humanity has sought to figure out the sun since time immemorial, she added, "really understanding that the sun had such a profound effect on Earth is really due to Gene Parker."
This outsize influence explains why NASA broke the mold with its naming of the PSP. It's the only agency spacecraft ever named after a living person.
Fox - Yesterday - Event - Parker - Visit
Fox explained during yesterday's event that she paid Parker a visit a few months ago to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the spacecraft's arrival in orbit around the...
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