NASA
NASA

NASA Details Plans to Fly to the Sun in 2018

NASA
NASA

NASA will head to the Sun in summer 2018 in a mission renamed today in honor of the man who proposed the existence of solar winds some 60 years ago—and was ridiculed for it.

The Parker Solar Probe (formerly the Solar Probe Plus) has been in the works for some time. It's been renamed for astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who first described solar winds in the mid-1950s. Parker's first research paper on the subject was initially rejected on the grounds that his thesis was ridiculous. (One reviewer at Astrophysical Journal told Parker he should go to the library before he tried to write research papers.) Just a few years later, spacecraft in orbit confirmed his calculations.

NASA scientists will aim the probe Sunward, Icarus-style, and hope the equipment fares better than the mythical inventor’s son in the face of the blazing star’s incredible heat and radiation.

The probe’s trajectory will take it into the Sun's outer atmosphere, within 4 million miles of the surface. This may seem like an enormous distance to us puny humans, but in cosmic terms, that’s practically grazing the Sun’s flaming cheek.

Jonathan Lunine is the director of the Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science at Cornell University. Speaking in a statement, he said the epic brush with the Sun will yield a lot of new data. The mission will "fly closer to the Sun than the distance at which even close-in exoplanets orbit their own suns,” he said, “giving us unprecedented information on the kinds of environments these planets experience.”

“Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we’ve puzzled over for more than six decades,” said project scientist Nicola Fox, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in a statement. “It’s a spacecraft loaded with technological breakthroughs that will solve many of the largest mysteries about our star, including finding out why the Sun’s corona is so much hotter than its surface. And we’re very proud to be able to carry Gene’s name with us on this amazing voyage of discovery.”

Speaking at a press conference earlier today at the University of Chicago, Parker said he was "greatly honored to be associated with such a heroic scientific space mission." The probe is a "fabulous spacecraft," he said. "Hooray for solar probe."

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MARS Bioimaging
The World's First Full-Color 3D X-Rays Have Arrived
MARS Bioimaging
MARS Bioimaging

The days of drab black-and-white, 2D X-rays may finally be over. Now, if you want to see what your broken ankle looks like in all its full-color, 3D glory, you can do so thanks to new body-scanning technology. The machine, spotted by BGR, comes courtesy of New Zealand-based manufacturer MARS Bioimaging.

It’s called the MARS large bore spectral scanner, and it uses spectral molecular imaging (SMI) to produce images that are fully colorized and in 3D. While visually appealing, the technology isn’t just about aesthetics—it could help doctors identify issues more accurately and provide better care.

Its pixel detectors, called “Medipix” chips, allow the machine to identify colors and distinguish between materials that look the same on regular CT scans, like calcium, iodine, and gold, Buzzfeed reports. Bone, fat, and water are also differentiated by color, and it can detect details as small as a strand of hair.

“It gives you a lot more information, and that’s very useful for medical imaging. It enables you to do a lot of diagnosis you can’t do otherwise,” Phil Butler, the founder/CEO of MARS Bioimaging and a physicist at the University of Canterbury, says in a video. “When you [have] a black-and-white camera photographing a tree with its leaves, you can’t tell whether the leaves are healthy or not. But if you’ve got a color camera, you can see whether they’re healthy leaves or diseased.”

The images are even more impressive in motion. This rotating image of an ankle shows "lipid-like" materials (like cartilage and skin) in beige, and soft tissue and muscle in red.

The technology took roughly a decade to develop. However, MARS is still working on scaling up production, so it may be some time before the machine is available commercially.

[h/t BGR]

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ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
Look Closely—Every Point of Light in This Image Is a Galaxy
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Even if you stare closely at this seemingly grainy image, you might not be able to tell there’s anything to it besides visual noise. But it's not static—it's a sliver of the distant universe, and every little pinprick of light is a galaxy.

As Gizmodo reports, the image was produced by the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory, a space-based infrared telescope that was launched into orbit in 2009 and was decommissioned in 2013. Created by Herschel’s Spectral and Photometric Imaging Receiver (SPIRE) and Photodetector Array Camera and Spectrometer (PACS), it looks out from our galaxy toward the North Galactic Pole, a point that lies perpendicular to the Milky Way's spiral near the constellation Coma Berenices.

A close-up of a view of distant galaxies taken by the Herschel Space Observatory
ESA/Herschel/SPIRE; M. W. L. Smith et al 2017

Each point of light comes from the heat of dust grains between different stars in a galaxy. These areas of dust gave off this radiation billions of years before reaching Herschel. Around 1000 of those pins of light belong to galaxies in the Coma Cluster (named for Coma Berenices), one of the densest clusters of galaxies in the known universe.

The longer you look at it, the smaller you’ll feel.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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