Ah, early spring. When it’s still cold and it’s also muddy. When you’re over sweaters and starting to miss your sandals. When you’ve had it with gray skies and rain. When you just want summer to hurry up so you can go somewhere warm. Somewhere bright and exciting, with lots of interesting things to see. And what place is warmer and brighter and more interesting than the actual Sun? No place.
Alas, none of us have enough airline miles or sunscreen to visit the Sun, but NASA will take your name there for free on a microchip this summer, if you sign up for a virtual ticket on their website. Name submissions will be taken until April 27th, 2018, and the names will be aboard the Parker Solar Probe when it heads to the Sun this summer. (So if you missed the deadline to have your name taken to Mars in May, here’s your name’s second chance to go to space!)
NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is named after astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who proposed several important concepts about the Sun in the 1950s.
This is the first time NASA has named a spacecraft after a living individual. Dr. Parker serves as the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Chicago.
The probe is about the size of a small car. It will travel directly into the Sun’s atmosphere at around 430,000 mph. So tell your name to make sure its seatbelt is buckled.
The primary goals of the mission are to observe and record how energy and heat move through the sun’s atmosphere (called the “corona”), and to find out what accelerates the solar wind and solar energetic particles. The solar wind is a “cascade of energy” the sun gives off. Parker named the solar wind and also described its complex systems of “plasmas, magnetic fields and energetic particles.”
If you want your name to be part of this important mission — or just want to imagine yourself somewhere warmer while you watch the next rainstorm come in — visit the NASA website and sign up. And make sure to have your name send postcards.