August 4, 2017
With the launch of the Parker Solar Probe next year we will embark on a journey that is by all measures historic: humanity will visit a star. The Parker Solar Probe will fly very close to the Sun, more than seven times closer to the surface than we have ever been before, with the objective of providing answers to questions that have mystified scientists for many decades. Phenomena such as the multi-million-degree coronal temperature and the supersonic solar wind flow have been known for a long time, yet we are unable to find the missing pieces of the puzzle to understand how the corona is heated and the solar wind accelerated. Thanks to the collective expertise and perseverance of a large group of professionals (scientists, engineers, managers, …) the spacecraft will be able to withstand the challenging environment of extreme heat and hazardous doses of solar radiation.
While we wait another year for PSP to explore this region of space, just a few weeks from now the continental United States will be treated to a mesmerizing celestial phenomenon: the solar corona will shine into our eyes as the moon eclipses the visible solar disk. Although solar eclipses are worth celebrating for their beauty and rarity alone, they were and still are key to many of the scientific advances we now enjoy. Before the space age, solar eclipses provided our only chance to study the corona. In fact, we discovered almost all we know about the corona during these rare celestial events, and yet we will never be able to truly explain what is happening without at last visiting this extreme region. We are on the verge of making huge strides forward, and it is thanks to observations of solar eclipses made centuries ago that have led us through trial and error to where we are now: building and preparing to launch the Parker Solar Probe mission.
We will explore the mission’s deep roots in the history of solar eclipses and show how these new observations will finally unlock the mysteries of the corona.
Dr. Nour E. Raouafi is a solar physicist. His research spreads over a wide range of solar and heliospheric areas with an emphasis on the dynamic solar corona via the analysis of spectral and imaging observations, theory, and modeling. His primary contributions have been in the area of solar magnetic fields, coronal spectropolarimetry, coronal plumes and jets, CMEs and coronal shock waves, solar energetic particles, and cometary physics. He authored and co-authored tens of peer-reviewed papers and meeting proceedings. He obtained his Ph.D. from the University Paris XI (Orsay, France), then spent three years at the Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research (Göttingen, Germany) and four years at the National Solar Observatory (Tucson, Arizona). He joined APL in 2009 and he has since been involved in the project scientist team of the Parker Solar Probe mission.
Dr. Nicola J “Nicky” Fox is the Project Scientist for the Parker Solar Probe (PSP) mission. Her main role is to ensure the scientific integrity of the mission and she represents the PSP science team in all aspects of the project, leads the Science Working Group activities and liaises with the mission engineering team and the NASA/Goddard and Headquarters program offices. Nicky is also the Chief Scientist for Heliophysics and Applications in the Space Research branch. She completed her Ph.D. in Space and Atmospheric Physics at Imperial College in London in 1995. She then moved to Maryland and worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center until 1998, receiving a number of NASA awards for outstanding performance. Subsequently, in 1998, Nicky moved to the Applied Physics Laboratory, where she is a member of the Space Exploration Sector.