With my follow-up on Solar Eclipses and the Bible a week away from being done, I wish to invite you into some vacation planning I am doing. A good friend of mine and I have decided to plan a vacation for next summer that will be somewhat of a "bucket list" vacation. In short, we are making a list of all the things we would like to see and do in life, but have never had a chance to see or do.
Right after going to a baseball game at Fenway Park, our second goal is to see the launch of a space mission in person. Our hope is to not only see a giant rocket speed into space, but to choose a mission we can follow in the years ahead. We have yet to finalize our decision, but one mission that stuck out to us was NASA's July 31, 2018 launch of The Parker Solar Probe. Equipped with a 4.5 inch thick solar shield made of Carbon, this minicar sized probe will observe the Sun at close range to hopefully unlock some of mysteries of our Star.
Here is a brief video to learn about the basics of The Parker Solar Probe's mission.
As mentioned in the video, the probe is being named after Dr. Eugene M. Parker who theorized what we now call solar winds. To think that this probe is going to penetrate the corona of the Sun to help us learn about our Star makes this a mission worth watching. Here are the scientific goals of this mission found on The Parker Solar Probe mission page.
Measurements from within the region where all the action happens
On the final three orbits, Parker Solar Probe will fly to within 9 solar radii of the sun's "surface" 9 solar radii is 9 times the radius of the sun, or about 3.9 million miles. That is about seven times closer than the current record-holder for a close solar pass, the Helios spacecraft.
At closest approach, Parker Solar Probe will be hurtling around the sun at approximately 450,000 miles per hour! That's fast enough to get from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in one second.
At closest approach to the sun, while the front of Parker Solar Probe' solar shield faces temperatures approaching 1,400° Celsius, the spacecraft's payload will be near room temperature. (From NASA's Mission Page)
Of course, step one of this mission is to see if the prob survives being this close to the Sun. This primary concern reminds me of the ongoing Juno Mission to Jupiter. Similar to the Parker Solar Probe, the Juno mission promised to bring a probe closer to the jovial giant than any other mission before, raising concerns about whether or not the probe would survive the intense radiation that comes off of Jupiter. Given the success of the Juno Mission in overcoming this concern, my optimism is running high that the Parker Solar Probe can have similar success!
Here's a NASA video on the five step process of solar eruptions that assist in the creation of solar winds.
As I have shared with you in past posts, my observation time as a hobby astronomer has been gravitating toward solar observation. One of the most satisfying aspects of observing the Sun is the daily changes you can see on its surface. When I taught astronomy at the high school level, I would use the daily variation of the Sun to remind students that the night sky is not a set pattern of unchanging objects. Rather, the universe is dynamic and ever changing, challenging a culture that lives life in "snap chats" to be patiently attentive to creation so we can be aware of this process of change. Not only to my former high school students, but also my current permanent deacons aspirants to whom I teach philosophy, this tension between stability and change reminds me of one of the oldest questions going back to Heraclitus and Parmenides: Do things change or do they stay the same?
In light of modern science, many could run to the presumption that all is change. There is a great deal of truth in this statement when looking at things like solar cycles on the Sun, seasonal changes of weather on the Earth, and understanding the life cycles of planets and stars. Yet, amid this constant bombardment of change there are things that stay the same at the level of essence. Despite the fact that the Earth changes, the Earth is and will continue to be the Earth. Though we can see that our Star changes from day to day by observing sun spots and other solar activity, the Sun is and will continue to be the Sun. Though things do indeed change, there is something in all things that make them unique from one another and identifiable from one another. In more philosophical terms, changing things have an essence that does not change that helps us understand how a particular thing exists.
For example, I have radically changed in my 43 years of life from an embryo in my mother's womb to currently a priest of 14 years. However, the one thing that has not changed is that I am me. The fundamental reality that the essence or "me-ness" of James Kurzynski has remained the same despite the biological, spiritual, and emotional changes I have gone though in life points to a tension when trying answer the question of change versus no change. The irony is that in order or me to become who God invites me to become, I must change. Therefore, the dynamic of stability and change go hand in hand. If all is change, then we lose our sense of identity. If all is unchanging, we stifle the necessary development to become what we are intend to be. Therefore, in classic Catholic "both and" fashion, answering the question of whether things change or whether they stay the same is met with the paradoxical mystery that change and stability coexist and are necessary in creation.
Another example would be the existence of life itself. The change in the lifecycle of a Star reveals to us that the Sun will face an end that will be destructive to our common home. Some may argue, "How could a good and loving God allow such a thing?" Yet, when we understand that the raw materials our good Earth needs for life to exist come in part from the aftermath of Star death, we begin to see that the death of Stars was necessary for life to develop on Earth. How could a good and loving God allow Stars to die? Part of the answer to this question is so we could live.
Have I found the second stop on next summer's vacation? We'll see. For now, the mere exploration of upcoming NASA launches has given me the beautiful opportunity to meander through the wonders of our creation, not only from the standpoint of wanted to see a giant rocket be thrust into space, but to ask some of the bigger questions of life.
What is it about astronomy that moves you? Are there mysteries of our universe that awake deep questions of faith in you? Share your thoughts and together let us explore the mysteries of creation in a way that leads us to the Creator.