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Homechevron_rightOpinionchevron_rightEditorialchevron_rightThe Sun within arm's...

The Sun within arm's reach

The Sun within arms reach

When the Delta-IV rocket lifted off with 'Parker' Solar Probe, from the launch-pad of Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA destined for the sun, it was in fact flying to a new history of space research. This journey is in search of the secrets of energy in the solar system consisting of Earth, Moon, Mars and other planets and tens of thousands of natural satellites. It is not the first time that an artificial satellite is being launched to the Sun.

In 1974, NASA itself had launched a spacecraft named Helios with the help of West Germany. Travelling at 70 kilometer per second, this spacecraft went 4.3 crore kilometers close to the solar surface, and it was functional till the end of 1980. Now, years later 'Parker' has lifted off with remarkable technical advancements. This is the fastest moving object ever made by man, travelling at 190 kilometers per second and can reach 61.2 lakh kilometers close to the sun in 88 days. This means that if the earth and the sun are one meter apart, Parker will reach four centimeters close to the solar surface. Then, it will make probes orbiting the sun for seven years. It can be assumed that the data sent by this robotic vehicle overcoming the heat of the sun, will take man's knowledge about the universe in a new direction.

Recall 1859 when on 29 August, English astronomers Richard Carrington and Richard Hodgson observed, during an astronomic probe, an entirely unfamiliar spectacle. From the outer surface of the Sun a silver light was spilling out, but it disappeared after a few seconds. Although they could not make sense of this completely unusual sight, some 'untoward' incidents happened that day in Europe and America. The magnetic field of the Earth was disturbed, and the entire telegraph wire networks went out of order. The scientific world could not explain that phenomenon.

It was when this was continuing as a conundrum that in 1958, the American scientist Eugene Parker untied the knot of that mystery. He established that charged basic molecules were continuously released from the outer atmosphere (corona) of the Sun. Few were ready to accept the theory of the31-year old Parker, but later more proofs emerged supporting that. The release of particles at the speed of a million kilometers per hour, was called by Parker as 'solar wind'. Together with that, sometimes plasma and other substances may also be ejected, which is called coronal mass ejection. What Carrington and Hodgson observed was this massive ejection. Now 'Parker' has been launched in search of more data regarding corona, solar wind and mass ejections. Which also explains how the spacecraft got the name Parker.

The Parker mission is highly crucial, for the simple reason that if another mass ejection like the one in 1859, happens towards the Earth, its hazards will be no insignificant. The unexpected changes that may hit the Earth's magnetic field as a result of coronal mass ejection, is sufficient to annihilate a whole empire man built backed by science and technology. It may take a long time for a return to that. And that phenomenon has the destructive power to decimate an entire planet. When one such hit the Earth in 1989, Canada and Cuba and the region went into darkness for several days. Although massive similar solar wind happened in 2012 and 2014, they were not in the direction towards the Earth. But it is said that in the next three years, there is a likelihood of very strong solar winds. Again there is slim chance, say researchers, of their being in the direction of the Earth.

When it is getting time to celebrate the 50th anniversary man's landing on the moon, once again NASA has proved its invincibility in the scientific world through the launch of Parker. In a way, the history of flight to the moon is also the history of US-Soviet space war. The Soviets had to retreat from that war. Through the Apollo mission, America sent a dozen humans to the surface of the moon. But, space war was repeated even later in several ways. One can see the perpetuation of that war in the probes made to the other planets of the solar system including Mars.

Now the journey to the mother star is part of that. It is not NASA alone that is aiming for the Sun. European Union is close behind. The response by European Space Agency close on the heels of the successful Parker launch, that their spacecraft named Solo ('solar orbiter') will be launched from the earth within two years, can be seen as nothing but signs of a space race. But beyond that race in search of knowledge, if 'Parker' and 'Solo' make new discoveries, their ultimate beneficiary will be mankind.

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