NASA's Parker Solar Probe Aims for Sun Orbit by 2018

NASA announced Wednesday that the red-hot mission would be named after Eugene Parker, a University of Chicago professor who developed a theory of solar wind almost 60 years ago.

"It's a testament to the importance of his body of work, founding a new field of science that also inspired my own research and many important science questions NASA continues to study and further understand every day", said NASA's Science Mission Directorate associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen. Parker is the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago.

Previously named Solar Probe Plus, the Parker Solar Probe will launch in summer 2018. The hope is that it will help us prevent damaging space weather events, like solar storms.

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According to CNN, the mission's objectives include "tracing the flow of energy that heats and accelerates the sun's corona and solar wind, determining the structure and dynamics of the plasma and magnetic fields at the sources of the solar wind and explore mechanisms that accelerate and transport energetic particles".

In 1958, Parker, then a young professor at the university's Enrico Fermi Institute, published an article in the Astrophysical Journal.

This phenomenon, now known as the solar wind, has been proven to exist repeatedly through direct observation. Parker believed there was highly energized matter and radiation constantly escaping the sun, and that it affected the planets and space throughout our solar system.

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Parker, who is days away from his 90th birthday, described the mission as "very exciting".

As you can imagine, the heat shielding for this probe, which will be seven times closer than any previous mission to the sun, will be extensive. To avoid following the same fate of Icarus, the spacecraft will be covered by a almost 5-inch thick coat of carbon-composite solar shields.With this mission, NASA aims to obtain new insights into solar winds and space weather by collecting more precise data.

"I'm sure that there will be some surprises", he added. "There always are", Parker added.

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"Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we've puzzled over for more than six decades", Parker Solar Probe project scientist Nicola Fox explained. NASA says much like the seafarers of old had to learn about the ocean, now we must learn more about the space environment.

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