Category Archives: Solar Science

Send your name to the Sun on the Parker Solar Probe

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission offers you the opportunity to launch your name this summer on a spaceship heading for the sun :

Public Invited to Come Aboard NASA’s First Mission to Touch the Sun

Want to get the hottest ticket this summer without standing in line?

NASA is inviting people around the world to submit their names online to be placed on a microchip aboard NASA’s historic Parker Solar Probe mission launching in summer 2018. The mission will travel through the Sun’s atmosphere, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions — and your name will go along for the ride.

“This probe will journey to a region humanity has never explored before,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This mission will answer questions scientists have sought to uncover for more than six decades.”

Understanding the Sun has always been a top priority for space scientists. Studying how the Sun affects space and the space environment of planets is the field known as heliophysics. The field is not only vital to understanding Earth’s most important and life-sustaining star, it supports exploration in the solar system and beyond.

Submissions will be accepted until April 27, 2018. Learn more and add your name to the mission here: 

Star Trek’s William Shatner, on behalf of NASA, invites you to send your name where it’s never gone before: the Sun, by way of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Rich Melnick

The spacecraft, about the size of a small car, will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere about 4 million miles from the star’s surface. The primary science goals for the mission are to trace how energy and heat move through the solar corona and to explore what accelerates the solar wind as well as solar energetic particles. The mission will revolutionize our understanding of the Sun, where changing conditions can spread out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds.

To perform these unprecedented investigations, the spacecraft and instruments will be protected from the Sun’s heat by a 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield, which will need to withstand temperatures outside the spacecraft that reach nearly 2,500 F. This state-of-the-art heat shield will keep the four instrument suites designed to study magnetic fields, plasma and energetic particles, and image the solar wind at room temperature.

The spacecraft speed is so fast, at its closest approach it will be going at approximately 430,000 mph. That’s fast enough to get from Washington, D.C., to Tokyo in under a minute.

“Parker Solar Probe is, quite literally, the fastest, hottest — and, to me, coolest — mission under the Sun,” said project scientist Nicola Fox, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. “This incredible spacecraft is going to reveal so much about our star and how it works that we’ve not been able to understand.”

Honoring a Science Legend

Eugene Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, visits the spacecraft that bears his name, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, on Oct. 3, 2017. Engineers in the clean room at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, where the probe was designed and built, point out the instruments that will collect data as the mission travels directly through the Sun’s atmosphere. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

In May 2017, NASA renamed the spacecraft from the Solar Probe Plus to 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.

This was the first time NASA named a spacecraft for a living individual.

NASA missions are most often renamed after launch and certification. In this case, given Parker’s accomplishments within the field, and how closely aligned this mission is with his research, the decision was made to honor him prior to launch, in order to draw attention to his important contributions to heliophysics and space science.

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.

Parker Solar Probe is part of NASA’s Living with a Star Program, or LWS, to explore aspects of the Sun-Earth system that directly affect life and society. LWS is managed by the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, in Laurel, Maryland, manages the Parker Solar Probe mission for NASA. APL is designing and building the spacecraft and will also operate it.

Illustration of the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft approaching the Sun.
Credits: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory


Sunspots becoming rarer as cycle heads toward minimum

Bob Zimmerman posts his latest report on the sunspot cycle: The Sun goes quiet! Sunspot update for November 2017 | Behind The Black  

The past month was the most inactive month for sunspots since the middle of 2009, when the last solar minimum was just ending and the Sun was beginning its ramp up to solar maximum.

The sun has a blank look today as well:


Check the HobbySpace Sun & Space Weather page  for daily images and data for solar and space weather conditions.

Here is a sampling of solar/space weather related Twitter feeds:


No spots but the Sun is stormy nonetheless

The sun has gone spotless for the past seven days: – Oct.15.2017.

Nevertheless, there has continued to be solar eruptions leading to brilliant aurora on earth:

NO SUNSPOTS, NO PROBLEM: A minor G1-class geomagnetic storm is underway on Oct. 15th. This marks the 5th consecutive day that polar geomagnetic storms have been observed–a remarkable string considering that there are NO SUNSPOTS on the face of the sun. It just goes to show that blank suns can indeed produce stormy space weather. Arctic sky watchers should remain alert for auroras as the solar wind continues to blow faster than 550 km/s. 

In September the number of sunspots went up a bit but the trend for the year shows a continued downturn towards a minimum in the cycle: Sunspot update for September 2017 | Behind The Black



Solar science: Two giant solar flares today + Update on the solar cycle

A couple of giant flares erupted on the sun today: Two Significant Solar Flares Imaged by NASA’s SDO | NASA

The sun emitted two significant solar flares on the morning of Sept. 6, 2017. The first peaked at 5:10 a.m. EDT and the second, larger flare, peaked at 8:02 a.m. EDT. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured images of both events. Solar flares are powerful bursts of radiation. Harmful radiation from a flare cannot pass through Earth’s atmosphere to physically affect humans on the ground, however — when intense enough — they can disturb the atmosphere in the layer where GPS and communications signals travel.


Here is Bob Zimmerman’s latest update on the solar cycle and the number of sunspots: Sunspot update for August 2017 | Behind The Black

The long slow decline to solar minimum has now shown itself. Up until now, the ramp down from solar maximum had been fast and steep, unlike past solar cycles where the ramp down is slow and steady. The last few months the ramp down had practically ceased. In this August graph the ramp down turned into a temporary ramp up. Considering the strong activity going on right now as well as the past week, I expect the September numbers to also show this increase.

Views of the solar eclipse from space

Here is imagery of the eclipse as seen from space:


Update: Another GEOS-16 clip:

Update 2: A GEOS-16 clip showing the eclipse shadown moving over the whole northern hemisphere

Update 3: Yet more images of the eclipse from space starting with the view from the DSCOVR satellite, which resides about a million miles from earth:

The ISS didn’t have a great view but could be seen clearly near the far horizon: