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By Scott Sullivan

Editor

Solar Wind

We have come far since the ancient Greeks believed sun god Helios drove a chariot towed by four steeds daily across the sky. We now know the sun does not revolve around Earth; all revolves around Donald Trump.

The sun may have been eclipsed, but it’s still hot stuff. NASA Aug. 12 shot the Parker Solar Probe at its corona, which is hundreds of times hotter than Sol’s 10,000° F. surface. Who wouldn’t want to go there?

Among mysteries scientists hope to solve with the 7-year, $1.5-billion mission is why the sun’s wispy edge is so much hotter than the surface. As are humans when we circle each other dating, then after marriage.

They also want to learn more about solar wind. Clean energy proponents — except when someone wants to build a wind farm or solar panel bank next door to them — should love that one.

Solar wind is a supersonic stream of charged particles blasting off the sun at more than 1 million mph. From there it courses through space, sometimes wreaking havoc on earth’s electrical systems. When my wooden bluebird on a backyard post spins its wings, I know it’s a solar wind day.

If all goes well, the Probe will fly 93 million miles to reach the corona in November. From there it will perform 24 solar orbits in seven years, coming within 3.8 million miles of the surface. The old record was 27 million miles set by NASA’s Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

Wait, there’s more. The Parker will orbit at speeds reaching 430,000 mph, faster than anything ever before made on earth. Its 8-foot heat shield will shade scientific instruments, including on-board sensors capable of withstanding 2,500 degrees.

I could use sunscreen like that at the beach, as my brain is fried. I remembered a children’s book “You Will Go to the Sun” when I researched this column, but could not confirm it. No Google, it did not exist.

Seems I’d conflated Mae and Ira Freeman’s 1959 Beginner Book “You Will Go to the Moon” with a Black Sabbath song I recalled as “Into the Sun” but was “Under the Sun.” Either way, it was stupid.

I’d like to fire a probe at what transmutes our thoughts and memories. Like what made the Freemans think, 10 years before the first man set foot on the moon, their young readers will go there. No “might” about it.

“You Will Go to the Sun” is more fanciful yet, but that’s where the Probe is headed. The spacecraft is named after Eugene Parker, now a 91-year-old astrophysicist who theorized solar wind’s existence 60 years ago. Its launch was the first he had ever witnessed. Parker compared it to looking at photos of the Taj Mahal, then seeing the real thing.

“I have to turn from biting my nails in getting it launched,” said the retired University of Chicago professor, “to thinking about all the interesting things which I don’t know yet and which will be made clear, I assume, over the next six or seven years.”

I haven’t yet met a genius who didn’t double as a lunatic. My parents never understood my behavior; what makes scientists think they can understand the sun’s?

More data begets more “answers” that really aren’t; they just raise more questions. It would spoil the joy of discovery, as we orbit truth, were we to touch down.

 

After research like that I could use a beverage. “Did you bring Coronas?” I’d ask my lab partner.”

“Yeah.”

“Are they cold yet?”

We’d add a lime wedge, chill on a dock and watch summer ending. The sun will not be more distant, just our hemisphere tilting away from it on earth’s axis.

Why does that happen, begetting seasons, the life-death cycle? Why do leaf colors change? Science offers its spin on answers, but what explains our minds that apply them?

We’ll look on the water and wonder if light’s made of waves or particles. What about heat? Boats will sail and flags fly on solar wind.