Solar Probe Named: Eugene Parker, Ph.D., U of Chicago Astrophysicist — Scant “Icarus” Object Lessons, Here.

The first living human honored with a spacecraft named after him. . . is no Icarus, himself. He is a lion, in maroon [as he discovered, and named, what we now call the solar winds]. So this poem appears here simply because the craft, itself will perform an Icarus maneuver. Do read the NASA copy in blue, for more — but this is a good excuse, also, to drink in poetry (drowning, perhaps momentarily at least, beneath some haunting waters) — drawn under, I suppose, by Mr. Williams‘ sublime, and surprising, prose:

Landscape with the Fall of Icarus

William Carlos Williams, 1883 – 1963

it was spring

a farmer was ploughing
his field
the whole pageantry

of the year was
awake tingling
near

the edge of the sea
concerned
with itself

sweating in the sun
that melted
that melted

unsignificantly
off the coast
there was

a splash quite unnoticed
this was
Icarus drowning

And now, to the grin-inducing press release out of NASA this afternoon (excellent, Professor Parker!):

. . . .NASA has renamed the Solar Probe Plus spacecraft — humanity’s first mission to a star, which will launch in 2018 — as the Parker Solar Probe in honor of astrophysicist Eugene Parker. The announcement was made at a ceremony at the University of Chicago, where Parker serves as the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In 1958, Parker — then a young professor at the university’s Enrico Fermi Institute — published an article in the Astrophysical Journal called “Dynamics of the interplanetary gas and magnetic fields.” Parker believed there was high speed matter and magnetism constantly escaping the sun, and that it affected the planets and space throughout our solar system.

This phenomenon, now known as the solar wind, has been proven to exist repeatedly through direct observation. Parker’s work forms the basis for much of our understanding about how stars interact with the worlds that orbit them.

“This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for a living individual,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “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. I’m very excited to be personally involved honoring a great man and his unprecedented legacy.”

“The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before,” said Parker. “It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind. I’m sure that there will be some surprises. There always are.”

In the 1950s, Parker proposed a number of concepts about how stars — including our sun — give off energy. He called this cascade of energy the solar wind, and he described an entire complex system of plasmas, magnetic fields and energetic particles that make up this phenomenon. Parker also theorized an explanation for the superheated solar atmosphere, the corona, which is — contrary to what was expected by physics laws — hotter than the surface of the sun itself. Many NASA missions have continued to focus on this complex space environment defined by our star — a field of research known as heliophysics. . . .

So it goes — let us then “dare mighty things” — free of all our smaller-selfed. . . fears. Onward, and good-evening, as in truth, I may well be. . . Icarus, drowning, and soon. . . .

नमस्ते

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