This Car-Sized NASA Spacecraft Is Hurtling Closer To The Sun Than Any Mission Before

At the center of the Sun is a raging nuclear inferno that reaches temperatures well into the millions of degrees. The surface is cool by comparison, at 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Then up in the corona—the golden haze that can be seen around the Sun during a total eclipse—the temperature shoots into the millions again. And no one knows why.

We might be on the verge of finding out.

In little more than a month, a NASA spacecraft will come closer to the Sun than any mission before—more than three-quarters of the way there—and it is just getting started. Laden with scientific instruments, the Parker Probe will continue to circle closer and closer, finally getting within a few million miles of the Sun in 2025. If you imagine the 93 million miles from here to the Sun as a football field, the probe will make it inside the 4-yard line, the agency says. And it won’t melt—more on that below.

The goal is not just cool science. The mission is expected to reveal much about mysterious high-energy particles that periodically spew forth from the Sun at thousands of miles per second, posing a risk to satellites, the power grid, and the health of astronauts.

Among the many scientists involved in planning the mission were David J. McComas, a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton University, and Bill Matthaeus, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Delaware.

The puzzle of the corona—the layer of atmosphere that begins 1,300 miles above the Sun’s surface—has long been a special focus for Matthaeus. Why would the corona’s temperature reach millions of degrees—a fact we know from using instruments called spectrometers—when the Sun’s surface below is only in the thousands?

“I like to tell people: ‘What would you do if you lit your campfire or a fire in your fireplace, and as you walked toward it, it got colder?'” Matthaeus said.

His preferred theory starts with roiling, turbulent motion that occurs in the photosphere—the gaseous layer that we perceive as the yellow “surface” of the Sun. This turbulence interacts with magnetic field lines that radiate out from the Sun, plucking them almost as if they were guitar strings, he said.

The resulting waves travel outward, then are reflected back, leading to a cascade that heats the corona to fantastic temperatures—fueling another phenomenon called solar wind, according to his explanation.

Other scientists have proposed different theories. Four suites of instruments on board the Parker Probe are expected to help answer these and other questions.

Princeton’s McComas is in charge of one group of instruments that will detect electrons, protons, and other energetic particles emitted by the Sun during chaotic events such as solar flares.

The measurements will be stored on solid-state data recorders—fancy versions of flash drives—then transmitted back to Earth by antenna when the probe’s looping path takes it away from the Sun’s intense heat.

These high-energy particles are a key element of “space weather,” with the potential to disrupt satellite communications, the power grid, and even the GPS feature in a smartphone. With enough warning of such events, technicians can place satellites into safer states, McComas said.

Like Matthaeus, the Princeton physicist is burning with curiosity about the Sun’s three big mysteries: the hot corona, the solar wind, and the energetic particles. But asked which theories might explain these phenomena, he demurred.

“I’m an experimentalist,” McComas said. “I go and observe the universe for what it is.”

So how will the sophisticated instruments survive those million-degree temperatures?

The answer has to do with the difference between temperature and heat, and the fact that the Sun’s corona, though hot, is very low density, NASA says. Temperature is a measure of how fast particles are moving, while heat refers to the amount of energy that is transferred by those particles. In the Sun’s corona, particles are traveling at high speed, but there are few of them, so relatively little heat can be transferred.

Agency scientists predict that exterior of the Parker spacecraft will be heated “only” to a temperature of about 2,500 degrees.

That is still hot enough to melt many metals. So the craft is protected by a heat shield—a carbon composite foam sandwiched between two carbon plates, designed at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

Betsy Congdon, the lead thermal engineer for the heat shield, demonstrated its effectiveness in a NASA video, heating one side with a blowtorch while a colleague calmly touched the other side with his bare hand.

With protective shield installed, the Parker Probe was launched at 3:31 a.m. on Aug. 12, carried aloft by a thundering Delta IV Heavy rocket at Cape Canaveral, Fla.

McComas and Matthaeus were among hundreds on hand for the awe-inspiring sight.

“It almost feels like an earthquake,” Matthaeus said. “The sound is just extraordinary.”

While the scientists are hopeful of getting answers to their questions, Matthaeus acknowledged that there is no certainty. Of one thing, the University of Delaware physicist has no doubt:

“We can be fairly certain that some unexpected things are going to be found out.”

UPDATE : Tropical Storm Kirk Nears Lesser Antilles With Threat of Heavy Rain; Warnings Issued

Tropical Storm Kirk is quickly approaching the Lesser Antilles and will bring a threat of flooding rain, mudslides and tropical storm-force winds to parts of the northern Windward and the southern Leeward Islands beginning Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center said convection had become better organized, prompting it to reissue advisories on Tropical Storm Kirk Wednesday morning. Kirk had lost its center of circulation Monday in the eastern Atlantic Ocean after first developing Saturday morning south of the Cabo Verde Islands.

Kirk is about 60 miles east-northeast of Barbados and moving rather quickly west-northwestward.

Tropical storm warnings have been posted for Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe, meaning tropical-storm-force winds (39-plus mph) are expected in these areas within 36 hours.

Tropical storm watches are in effect for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, meaning tropical-storm-force winds are possible within 36 hours.


Steered by high pressure to the north, Kirk will arrive in the Windward Islands on Thursday, first in Barbados, then in the rest of the Windward Islands covered by warnings. Little change in strength is anticipated before striking the Lesser Antilles.

The most serious threat from Kirk, however, will be from rainfall.

Rainfall totals from 4 to 6 inches are expected through Friday across the northern Windward and the southern Leeward Islands. Isolated totals up to 10 inches are possible across Martinique and Dominica.

This heavy rainfall over these mountainous islands will likely trigger life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides.

Eastern Puerto Rico can expect 2 to 4 inches of rainfall, with isolated totals of up to 6 inches, as whatever is left of Kirk slides by to the south Friday and Saturday.

Fortunately, Kirk is expected to encounter a formidable wall of wind shear – the change in wind speed and/or direction with height – in the Caribbean Sea this weekend.

This should eventually rip Kirk apart before it can threaten other areas of the Caribbean, as it did to Tropical Depression Eleven last weekend east of the Lesser Antilles.

Just over three years ago, Tropical Storm Erika dumped up to a foot of rain in just 12 hours on Dominica, producing catastrophic flooding and mudslides, killing 30, damaging or destroying 271 homes and damaging roads, bridges and other infrastructure on the island, according to the National Hurricane Center’s final report.

Dominica Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said Erika’s damage set the nation’s developmental progress back 20 years.

The destruction Erika left behind was sufficient to prompt a committee of the World Meteorological Organization to retire the name Erika from use for future Atlantic tropical storms and hurricanes.

Erika was only the second name retired for an Atlantic tropical cyclone which never reached hurricane status since names were first retired in 1954. Allison in 2001 – a multi-billion-dollar flood event in metro Houston – was the only other tropical storm whose name was retired.

Like Kirk, Erika fought wind shear through its life cycle, but rainfall potential of any tropical cyclone is not a function of the intensity of the storm. The rainfall flood threat from Kirk should be taken seriously.

Powerful Jet Discovered Coming From ‘Wrong’ Kind Of Star

Gehrels Swift Observatory, when the object emitted a burst of X-rays. The object is a slowly-spinning neutron star pulling material from a companion star that is likely significantly more massive than the Sun. The VLA observations began a week after the Swift discovery and continued until January 2018.

Both the fact that the object’s emission at X-ray and radio wavelengths weakened together over time and the characteristics of the radio emission itself convinced the astronomers that they were seeing radio waves produced by a jet.

“This combination is what we see in other jet-producing systems. Alternative mechanisms just don’t explain it,” van den Eijnden said.

Common theories for jet formation in systems like Sw J0243 say the jets are launched by magnetic field lines anchored in the inner parts of the accretion disks. In this scenario, if the neutron star has a very strong magnetic field, that field is overpowering and prevents the jet from forming.

“Our clear discovery of a jet in Sw J0243 disproves that longstanding idea,” van den Eijnden said.

Alternatively, the scientists suggest that Sw J0243’s jet-launching region of the accretion disk could be much farther out than in other types of systems, where the star’s magnetic field is weaker. Another idea, they said, is that the jets may be powered by the neutron star’s rotation, instead of being launched by magnetic field lines in the inner accretion disk.

“Interestingly, the rotation-powered idea predicts that the jet will be significantly weaker from more slowly rotating neutron stars, which is exactly what we see in Sw J0243,” Nathalie Degenaar, also of the University of Amsterdam, said.

The new discovery also implies that Sw J0243 may represent a large group of objects whose radio emission has been too weak to detect until new capabilities provided by the VLA’s major upgrade, completed in 2012, were available. If more such objects are found, the scientists said, they could test the idea that jets are produced by the neutron star’s spin.

The astronomers added that a jet from SwJ0243 may mean that another category of objects, called ultra-luminous X-ray pulsars, also highly magnetized, might produce jets.

“This discovery not only means we have to revise our ideas about jets from such systems, but also opens up exciting new areas of research,” Degenaar said.

Van den Eijnden, Degenaar, and their colleagues are reporting their discovery in the journal Nature.

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation, operated under cooperative agreement by Associated Universities, Inc.

Typhoon Trami: Images Show Storm From Space As It Heads For Japan

Stunning images of Typhoon Trami, currently projected to make landfall in mainland Japan on Sunday, have been captured by an astronaut on the International Space Station (ISS).

European astronaut Alexander Gerst posted the photos on Twitter Tuesday, noting that it looked “as if somebody pulled the planet’s gigantic plug.”

“Staring down the eye of yet another fierce storm. Category 5 Super Typhoon Trami is unstoppable and heading for Japan and Taiwan. Be safe down there!” he wrote.

Gerst wrote that, from space, the storm looks “as if somebody pulled the planet’s gigantic plug.”

By Wednesday, the storm had weakened and it is no longer considered a “super typhoon.” But with sustained wind speeds of around 195 kilometers per hour (121 mph), its strength remains that of a category 3 hurricane, and the islands in the storm’s projected path are bracing for its arrival.

If the current forecast holds, Trami will hit the Ryukyu islands south of Japan, including Okinawa, with winds between 185 and 200 kph (115 and 125 mph) beginning Friday night into Saturday morning.
From there the storm is expected to take a turn toward the northeast and will likely make landfall over Kagoshima prefecture as a strong typhoon with sustained winds equivalent to a category 3 hurricane Sunday afternoon. The storm will progress across the mainland dumping rain through the remainder of the weekend into early next week, according to forecasts Wednesday.

The storm is the fifth super typhoon to hit the western Pacific this year, CNN meteorologists say.

Even though it is still a relatively long time before the storm hits Japan, its impacts are already being felt.

Tropical moisture is being funneled up into Japan, causing rain along the eastern prefectures up toward Tokyo. That rain will continue through the next few days until the storm hits the mainland directly.

Rainfall totals from Kagoshima up through Tokyo could exceed 250 to 500 milimeters (9.8 to 19.6 inches) in many locations, which could cause flash flooding and landslides in some areas.

Second super typhoon in under two weeks

Trami comes on the heels of Super Typhoon Mangkhut, which cut a swath of destruction through northern Luzon in the Philippines less than two weeks ago, including causing a landslide in the township of Itogon in the Cordillera Administrative Region that killed dozens of people, mostly miners and their families.

More than 100 people in total were killed by the storm in the Philippines, while trees were downed and windows smashed across Hong Kong, which struggled to cope with its strongest storm on record.

Hurricane Rosa Expected To Strengthen, Heads Toward Southwest Mexico

Hurricane Rosa has become the 10th hurricane of the eastern Pacific season and is expected to continue strengthening.

Location: 510 miles west-southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico Maximum sustained winds: 75 mph and movement: west-northwest at 10 mph

At 11 a.m., the center of Hurricane Rosa was located 510 miles west-southwest of Manzanillo, Mexico.

Rosa is moving toward the west-northwest near 10 mph, and this general motion is forecast to continue for the next two days. A turn to the northwest is expected by Saturday morning.

Maximum sustained winds have quickly increased to near 75 mph, with higher gusts, and rapid strengthening is forecast to continue through tonight.

Afterward, strengthening should continue at a slower rate through Friday.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 25 miles from the
center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 80 miles.

Tropical Storm Kirk Reemerges, Strengthens In Atlantic, Forecasters Say

Tropical Storm Kirk, which lost strength and had dissipated earlier this week as it crossed the tropical Atlantic, has strengthened and reemerged Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami. Forecasters say little additional change in strength is expected through Thursday and is expected to weaken as it crosses over the eastern Caribbean Sea.

According to the NHC’s 2 p.m. EDT advisory, Kirk was located about 305 miles east of Barbados and about 430 miles east-southeast of Martinique, moving west at about 18 mph. The storm is packing maximum sustained winds of 60 mph with tropical storm-force winds reaching outward up to 115 miles from the center.

In the Pacific coast, weather officials are monitoring Hurricane Rosa. Forecasters said it is expected to strengthen but doesn’t pose an immediate threat to land.

Tropical storm warning
The NHC announced a tropical storm warning for Barbados, St. Lucia, Dominica, Martinique and Guadeloupe with tropical storm conditions that may happen within the next 36 hours.

Tropical storm watch

NHC said a tropical storm watch is in effect for St. Vincent and the Grenadines — with tropical storm conditions appearing within the next 36 hours.

Possible rain fall

NHC says Kirk can produce total rainfall of 4 to 6 inches across the northern Windward and southern Leeward Islands — with isolated maximum totals up to 10 inches across Martinique and Dominica. They warn of life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Latest forecast track

The NHC released an image showing Kirk’s forecasted movement through Monday at 8 a.m. ET.

Hurricane Florence aftermath

Meanwhile, record flooding is likely on the South Carolina coast in wake of Hurricane Florence. The NHC said a broad area of low pressure about 300 miles south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, was producing showers and thunderstorms on its north side.

Florence made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane Sept. 14 and has since killed at least 47 people across multiple states.

Economic research firm Moody’s Analytics estimated that the storm has caused around $44 billion in damage and lost output, one of the 10 costliest hurricanes to hit the U.S. The worst disaster, Hurricane Katrina in 2005, cost $192.2 billion in today’s dollars. Last year’s Hurricane Harvey cost $133.5 billion.

BREAKING NEWS: Scientists Coming to Terms of Earth’s Axis Drift or Wobble

Using observational and model-based data, scientists from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have proposed they have for the first time identified three broadly-categorized processes responsible for this drift or wobble of Earth’s axis. They titled their article: Scientists ID Three Causes of Earth’s Spin Axis Drift. However, it appears they are calling the natural expansion and contraction of glaciation as two of the three processes.

But the true historical data which is measured over millions of years clearly shows a pattern of long-term, mid-term, and short-term cycles of warming trends and cooling trends. A preponderance of evidence, most of which is from the latest findings markedly identify “two” main drivers which effect the Earth’s tilt, wobble, and equatorial bulge – in short…it breaks down to fire and ice; glacial fluctuation and mantle convection.

One example is Milankovitch-Cycles, identifying a 26,000 – 41,000 – 100,000 year cycles.

The JPL paper published in the scientific journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters, summarizes their study with the following statement: “With these three broad contributors identified, scientists can distinguish mass changes and polar motion caused by long-term Earth processes over which we have little control from those caused by climate change. They now know that if Greenland’s ice loss accelerates, polar motion likely will, too.”

I would suggest you read their statement two or three times and notice the carefully chosen words. “scientists can distinguish mass changes and polar motion caused by long-term Earth processes over which we have little control” vs “those caused by climate change” [which is the bait-and-switch word for global warming]. This is to say climate change is a historically accepted international scientific term. The words global warming is a made up name born by James Hansen and Michael Mann at a 1988 US Senate hearing based on a computer generated manipulated analysis.

The JPL paper describes their research findings as “scientists have for the first time identified… processes responsible for this drift.” The article below I published on September 9th 2012.

The Cause of Heating and Cooling of Earth’s Core and Climate Change

As a living entity, Earth fights for its survival. If internal or external events begin to throw Earth out of balance i.e. over heating via cosmic rays, charged particles, solar flares, or CMEs (coronal mass ejections) – or dramatic cooling via glacial enhancement i.e. ice age – Earth is always in process of bringing itself back to its ambient temperature. orbital, tilt, or magnetic alignment – it begins to correct itself. When oceanic tectonic subductions occur, it cools the mantle and outer core. To balance this shift in temperatures, the Earth’s core increases heat – and as a result releases what is known as “mantle plumes”. These plumes filled with super-heated liquid rock float up to the ocean bottom surface.

This action both cools the outer core and heats the oceans. As a result of heated oceans, we get tropical storms, hurricanes, and various forms of extreme weather. When troughs, rifts, and subduction zones, reset as a result of convection, scenario’s develop creating higher probability for earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes.

New Equation: (2012)
Increase Charged Particles → Decreased Magnetic Field → Increase Outer Core Convection → Increase of Mantle Plumes → Increase in Earthquake and Volcanoes → Cools Mantle and Outer Core → Return of Outer Core Convection


Science Of Cycles keeps you tuned-in and knowledgeable of what we are discovering, and how some of these changes will affect our communities and ways of living.