Eugene Parker, the visionary astrophysicist and former professor at the University of Chicago where he revolutionized our understanding of the sun has passed away at the age of 94, NASA said in a press release.
Son of an aeronautical engineer, Parker grew up in Buffalo, New York, where he tinkered with tin-can telephones and observed microorganisms with his grandfather's microscope, CNN reported. It was only in his senior year that Parker was introduced to physics and found it fascinating to pursue a degree and then a doctorate in the field.
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Discovering solar wind
As a 30-year-old, Parker had just begun his professional career while teaching at the University of Chicago, when he submitted a paper proposing the concept of solar winds. Parker used four lines of algebra to explain that a flow of charged gases emanates from the sun, and solar wind travels at a million miles per hour and occupies most of the solar system. Parker's idea was in strong contradiction to how astronomers back then viewed the solar system and believed that only a vacuum existed between the planets.
Parker had to get an overruling from the editor of Astrophysical Journal to get his paper published which became a part of his legacy that includes the shape of solar winds called Parker spiral, and duration of survival of galactic magnetic fields called Parker limit for monopoles.
The space probe that 'touched the Sun'
Parker's contributions to astronomy were considered at par with other great scientists at the University of Chicago such as Subramanyam Chandrasekhar, Enrico Fermi, and Arthur Holly Compton, who have also been honored by NASA by naming spacecraft after them.
Parker, however, was unique as he not only lived to see the spacecraft named after him being launched in 2018 but also made a three-year-long journey to the sun's surface and fly through its atmosphere.
As a tribute to Parker's visionary work, a copy of his solar winds paper of 1958 and his photos were sent on board the Parker Solar Probe by NASA. As the probe continues to study the sun, Parker's legacy will continue to guide many more astronomical missions in the future.