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LIVING WITH OUR STAR

A new blockbuster exhibition exploring humanity’s ever-changing relationship with our nearest star launches at the Science Museum.

6 October 2018 – 6 May 2019
Science Museum, London

Autumn blockbuster exhibition, The Sun: Living With Our Star, was launched by the Science Museum last week to shed new light on the power, beauty and dark side of our neighbourhood star.From early Nordic Bronze Age artefacts that reveal ancient beliefs of how the Sun was transported across the sky, to details of forthcoming solar missions, this exhibition will chart humankind’s dependence upon and ever-changing understanding of our local fusion reactor.

Highlights from the Science Museum collection will include an astronomical spectroscope made for Norman Lockyer – who campaigned for the founding of the Science Museum – who used it to reveal helium in the Sun’s atmosphere in 1868. The exhibition coincides with the 150th anniversary of Lockyer’s discovery, the first of an “extra-terrestrial” element, as helium had not yet been found on Earth. Also on display will be the original orrery, a mechanical model of the Solar System, made for the Earl of Orrery in 1712.At the press launch, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Dame Mary Archer, wearing a ‘Hello Solar’ t-shirt, congratulated the recent Nobel Prize Winners, including Donna Strickland, the third woman to win the Nobel Prize for physics, and Frances Arnold, the fifth woman to be awarded the prize for chemistry.

Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator, said: ‘Over the last several decades NASA and researchers from around the world have harnessed space technologies to bring us closer to understanding our star than ever before. I am delighted that the UK’s Science Museum’s new exhibition, The Sun: Living With Our Star, will tell these stories and engage many more people in the amazing science of our Sun.’

 

Parker Solar Probe
Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

Lead Curator of The Sun: Living With Our Star, Harry Cliff, looks at the launch of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe as humankind reaches out to touch the Sun for the very first time.

In the early hours of 12 August, a Delta IV-Heavy rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida carrying the most ambitious solar space mission ever to be attempted – NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. The launch marks the beginning of a seven-year mission that will take Parker closer to the Sun than any spacecraft before, flying into the Sun’s corona and bringing a wealth of new information about our local star.

 

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe on a mission to touch the Sun, on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018 picture Ryan Chylinski

 

Parker is a mission almost 30 years in the making. It was back in 1990 that scientists at NASA first began to discuss sending a probe to the Sun. The team have had to overcome enormous technical challenges as well as cancellations, delays and budget issues to finally be at a point where they can deliver this once in a generation mission. There are sure to be some very nervous people watching Saturday morning as their precious spacecraft gets blasted into space on top of tens of thousands of tons of highly explosive rocket fuel. Despite being the largest and brightest object in the sky, there is still a lot we don’t understand about our Sun. Why does the corona – the ghostly halo of light that becomes visible around the Sun during a total eclipse – have a temperature of millions of degrees Celsius when the surface of the Sun is at only 5730 degrees? How is the solar wind – the stream of charged particles that constantly buffets the Earth – accelerated into space?

Perhaps the most significant issue that Parker will help to address is the threat posed to human activity by solar storms. Despite its tranquil appearance from the surface of the Earth, the Sun is a dynamic and often violent body, sporadically firing vast clouds of charged particles into space. These ‘coronal mass ejections’ have the power to knock out satellites and power grids, if we were unlucky enough for one to hit the Earth. Improving our understanding of these solar storms is essential in predicting when they might occur and in giving more warning of an impending storm to the people who run our power, transport and communications networks. Parker will measure the origins of these solar storms right at source, providing crucial data.

NASA / Naval Research Laboratory / Parker Solar Probe

 

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