Your Space Journey

What is the Solar Wind? Tribute to Dr. Eugene Parker – Visionary Heliophysicist & Solar Wind Pioneer

April 15, 2022 eugene parker Season 3 Episode 4
Your Space Journey
What is the Solar Wind? Tribute to Dr. Eugene Parker – Visionary Heliophysicist & Solar Wind Pioneer
Show Notes

This is a tribute to the late solar astrophysicist Dr. Eugene Parker, featuring my phone interview with him from 2018.

In the mid-1950s Dr. Parker developed the theory of the supersonic solar wind and predicted the spiral shape of the solar magnetic field. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1967 and received numerous honors throughout his career, including the Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research by the American Physics Society for his fundamental contributions to space physics, plasma physics, solar physics and astrophysics for over 60 years. 

In his honor, NASA renamed the Parker Solar Probe after him, the first time in history that a space vessel was named after a living person. 

The Parker Solar Probe was launched in August 2018 and is still making incredible discoveries to this day. I was fortunate to interview Dr. Parker before the launch and grateful to present this interview to you today as we talked about heliophysics and the Parker Solar Probe mission. Dr. Parker passed away on March 15, 2022.

About Dr. Eugene Newman Parker
In the mid-1950s, a young physicist named Eugene 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 corona, which is — contrary to what was expected by then-known physics laws — hotter than the surface of the Sun itself. His theory suggested that regular, but small, solar explosions called nanoflares could, in enough abundance, cause this heating.

More than half a century later, the Parker Solar Probe mission now provides key observations on Parker’s groundbreaking theories and ideas, which have informed a generation of scientists about solar physics and the magnetic fields around stars. Much of his pioneering work, which has been proven by subsequent spacecraft, defined a great deal of what we know about the how the Sun–Earth system interacts.

Born on June 10, 1927, in Michigan, Parker received a B.S. in physics from Michigan State University and a Ph.D. from Caltech in 1951. He then taught at the University of Utah, and since 1955, Parker has held faculty positions at the University of Chicago and at its Fermi Institute.

He has received numerous awards for his research, including the George Ellery Hale Prize, the National Medal of Science, the Bruce Medal, the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Kyoto Prize, the James Clerk Maxwell Prize, and the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy.

About Parker Solar Probe
NASA’s historic Parker Solar Probe mission is revolutionizing our understanding of the Sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds. Parker Solar Probe travels through the Sun’s atmosphere, closer to the surface than any spacecraft before it, facing brutal heat and radiation conditions to provide humanity with the closest-ever observations of a star.

Learn more about Parker Solar Probe and its mission at: 

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