CLOSE
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."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Space
Mysterious 'Hypatia Stone' Is Like Nothing Else in Our Solar System
iStock
iStock

In 1996, Egyptian geologist Aly Barakat discovered a tiny, one-ounce stone in the eastern Sahara. Ever since, scientists have been trying to figure out where exactly the mysterious pebble originated. As Popular Mechanics reports, it probably wasn't anywhere near Earth. A new study in Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta finds that the micro-compounds in the rock don't match anything we've ever found in our solar system.

Scientists have known for several years that the fragment, known as the Hypatia stone, was extraterrestrial in origin. But this new study finds that it's even weirder than we thought. Led by University of Johannesburg geologists, the research team performed mineral analyses on the microdiamond-studded rock that showed that it is made of matter that predates the existence of our Sun or any of the planets in the solar system. And, its chemical composition doesn't resemble anything we've found on Earth or in comets or meteorites we have studied.

Lead researcher Jan Kramers told Popular Mechanics that the rock was likely created in the early solar nebula, a giant cloud of homogenous interstellar dust from which the Sun and its planets formed. While some of the basic materials in the pebble are found on Earth—carbon, aluminum, iron, silicon—they exist in wildly different ratios than materials we've seen before. Researchers believe the rock's microscopic diamonds were created by the shock of the impact with Earth's atmosphere or crust.

"When Hypatia was first found to be extraterrestrial, it was a sensation, but these latest results are opening up even bigger questions about its origins," as study co-author Marco Andreoli said in a press release.

The study suggests the early solar nebula may not have been as homogenous as we thought. "If Hypatia itself is not presolar, [some of its chemical] features indicate that the solar nebula wasn't the same kind of dust everywhere—which starts tugging at the generally accepted view of the formation of our solar system," Kramer said.

The researchers plan to further probe the rock's origins, hopefully solving some of the puzzles this study has presented.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Ocean Waves Are Powerful Enough to Toss Enormous Boulders Onto Land, Study Finds
iStock
iStock

During the winter of 2013-2014, the UK and Ireland were buffeted by a number of unusually powerful storms, causing widespread floods, landslides, and coastal evacuations. But the impact of the storm season stretched far beyond its effect on urban areas, as a new study in Earth-Science Reviews details. As we spotted on Boing Boing, geoscientists from Williams College in Massachusetts found that the storms had an enormous influence on the remote, uninhabited coast of western Ireland—one that shows the sheer power of ocean waves in a whole new light.

The rugged terrain of Ireland’s western coast includes gigantic ocean boulders located just off a coastline protected by high, steep cliffs. These massive rocks can weigh hundreds of tons, but a strong-enough wave can dislodge them, hurling them out of the ocean entirely. In some cases, these boulders are now located more than 950 feet inland. Though previous research has hypothesized that it often takes tsunami-strength waves to move such heavy rocks onto land, this study finds that the severe storms of the 2013-2014 season were more than capable.

Studying boulder deposits in Ireland’s County Mayo and County Clare, the Williams College team recorded two massive boulders—one weighing around 680 tons and one weighing about 520 tons—moving significantly during that winter, shifting more than 11 and 13 feet, respectively. That may not sound like a significant distance at first glance, but for some perspective, consider that a blue whale weighs about 150 tons. The larger of these two boulders weighs more than four blue whales.

Smaller boulders (relatively speaking) traveled much farther. The biggest boulder movement they observed was more than 310 feet—for a boulder that weighed more than 44 tons.

These boulder deposits "represent the inland transfer of extraordinary wave energies," the researchers write. "[Because they] record the highest energy coastal processes, they are key elements in trying to model and forecast interactions between waves and coasts." Those models are becoming more important as climate change increases the frequency and severity of storms.

[h/t Boing Boing]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios