This week in science: sun diving

Featuring a forward looking heat shield and diminutive solar panels canted away from direct sunlight, the Parker solar probe will repeatedly dive within four million miles of the sun’s surface later this year.

Weather permitting, the Parker Solar Probe will have launched by the time you read this. It will dive into the sun’s ferocious gravity and soon become the fastest object ever made by humans

It will brave extreme temperatures reaching up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit to collect data and images of the sun’s atmosphere called “corona.” The spacecraft will also reach speeds up to 430,000 mph, making it the fastest-ever human-made object. That’s nowhere near fast enough to reach Alpha Centauri within our lifetime — it has to travel around 7,000 years to reach the star closest to our sun — but fast enough to get from Philadelphia to DC in a second.

The NASA homepage is here and Wikipedia has a pretty good write up also. Basically, Eugene Parker is a living NASA physicist who first proposed the solar wind, and his solar namesake will eventually take up residence in the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, where it will periodically dip to within just a few million miles of the sun’s churning, incandescent photosphere. But be patient for the best data: it will take seven years of shedding excess velocity, including seven critical encounters with the planet Venus, to slowly spiral in that close.

  • I didn’t know that asbestos denial (Mesothelioma denial?) existed. But ealier this week, Mark Sumner had a nice, concise piece on this newish form of anti-science Trumpism here.
  • I haven’t seen specific bills or any language yet, but sources tell me chronic pain — and now chronic insomnia patients too — may face even more obstacles getting treated beginning as early as next year. One state bill I heard about requires pain docs to taper all patients off their meds regardless of the condition. Another purported measure targets sleeping aides like Restoril or Lunesta, greatly limiting or eliminating them, if and when they are prescribed in combo with opiate painkillers. Hark! Where is the chorus of usual suspects demanding “get gubmint outa” my healthcare?

To get heavy payloads into orbit, American rockets like the Atlas V use Russia’s powerful RD-180 engine—an engine that previous rounds of U.S. sanctions have studiously exempted. But now, following the Trump administration’s decision to retaliate for the Kremlin poisoning a former spy and his daughter, Russian officials are threatening to block sales of the RD-180 to the Americans.

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