Scientists who worked on NASA’s Parker solar probe said Thursday that the 2017 solar eclipse sparked widespread attention for their project to “touch” the sun.
“I think it made everybody look to the sky. It made everybody realize that the sun is not just a single point of light, but it has profound effects on us here at Earth,” Parker Solar Probe Scientist Nikki Fox said a pre-launch press briefing.
During the eclipse, those with proper gear could view the sun’s corona, the plasma that extends away from the surface. NASA’s mission will launch the Parker probe through the 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit plasma in order to gather data on the sun’s immediate atmosphere, particularly the phenomenon of solar wind.
For Ms. Fox, it is “mind-blowing” to think about being days away from sending the first human technology into that area.
“I didn’t realize how emotional I would get [during the eclipse],” Thomas Zurbuchen, head of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said, “That’s an amazing moment. Within seconds you realize, that’s where Parker is going to go.”
The probe will be the closest humanity will get in observing the center of the solar system. By using Venus’ gravity, the craft will come under 4 million miles away from the sun. While that sounds like an unfathomable distance, it is under 4 percent of the space between the Earth and the sun.
Senior Communications Official Dwayne Brown hinted that NASA is planning “something special” on the anniversary of the eclipse.
Mr. Zurbuchen also said he believed the probe’s namesake made a huge difference in how people thought of the solar probe. The craft is named after physicist Eugene Parker, the only person alive to have a NASA spacecraft named after them. Mr. Parker wrote a paper in 1958 about magnetic fields and the sun’s atmosphere, which the probe will now observe.
“The story of perseverance, of innovation, of being right ultimately in the face of the adversary [is attached to it,]” he said, “It really is the equivalent of touching the sun, of flying through its atmosphere. That’s the spark, right?”
NASA is aiming to launch the solar probe Saturday afternoon form the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The announcement of this new probe follows close on the heels of NASA revealing the commercial crews that will be launching in American-made rockets for the first time since 2011.