NASA has renamed the Solar Probe Plus in honor of pioneering physicist Eugene Parker, who was the first to theorize that the sun sent a steady stream of high-speed particles and magnetic forces outward throughout the solar system. An article he had published in the Astrophysical Journal in 1958 was the first to describe the solar wind, a phenomenon that was later confirmed through numerous observation missions that studied the sun and its effect on the solar system.
This is one of the few times that NASA has chosen to rename a mission before it has been launched and certified. However, NASA officials involved in the project felt that it was important to acknowledge Parker’s contributions to the field of astrophysics and especially our understanding of the Sun’s effect on the rest of the solar system. The new name was announced at a ceremony at the University of Chicago, where Parker serves as the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus for the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
The newly renamed Parker Solar Probe is set to be launched during a 20-day window that opens on July 31, 2018. This mission is part of a program titled Living With A Star, which will study the sun’s effect on Earth and especially its impact on life and society. The Parker Solar Probe will study long-standing mysteries such as the reasons that the sun’s corona is hotter than its core.
Project Scientist Nicola Fox of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory said of the mission, “Parker Solar Probe is going to answer questions about solar physics that we’ve puzzled over for more than six decades. … We’re very proud to be able to carry Gene’s name with us on this amazing voyage of discovery.”
The Goddard Space Flight Center and John Hopkins ALS are working as partners to manage the Living With A Star program and the Parker Space Probe for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.