Eugene Parker

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Eugene Parker
Parker in 2018 at the launch of the solar probe that bears his name
Eugene Newman Parker

(1927-06-10)June 10, 1927
DiedMarch 15, 2022(2022-03-15) (aged 94)
Alma materMichigan State University (BS)
Caltech (PhD)
Known forSweet–Parker model
Solar wind
Parker spiral
AwardsArctowski Medal (1969)
George Ellery Hale Prize (1978)
Chapman Medal (1979)
National Medal of Science (1989)
William Bowie Medal (1990)
James Clerk Maxwell Prize (2003)
Kyoto Prize (2003)
Crafoord Prize (2020)
Scientific career
FieldsSolar physics, plasma physics
InstitutionsUniversity of Chicago
ThesisThe interstellar dust and gas structures (1951)
Doctoral advisorHoward P. Robertson
Doctoral studentsArnab Rai Choudhuri

Eugene Newman Parker (June 10, 1927 – March 15, 2022) was an American solar and plasma physicist. In the 1950s he proposed the existence of the solar wind and that the magnetic field in the outer Solar System would be in the shape of a Parker spiral, predictions that were later confirmed by spacecraft measurements. In 1987, Parker proposed the existence of nanoflares, a leading candidate to explain the coronal heating problem.

Parker obtained his PhD from Caltech and spent four years as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Utah. He joined University of Chicago in 1955 and spent the rest of his career there, holding positions in the physics department, the astronomy and astrophysics department, and the Enrico Fermi Institute. Parker was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1967. In 2017, NASA named its Parker Solar Probe in his honor, the first NASA spacecraft named after a living person.[1]


Parker was born in Houghton, Michigan to Glenn and Helen (MacNair) Parker on June 10, 1927.[2] He received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Michigan State University in 1948 and a Doctor of Philosophy from Caltech in 1951.[3] Parker spent four years at the University of Utah before joining the University of Chicago in 1955, where he spent the rest of his career.[3] He held positions in Chicago's physics department, astronomy and astrophysics department, and the Enrico Fermi Institute.[4] Parker was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1967.[4]

Theoretical research[edit]

In the mid-1950s, Parker developed the theory of supersonic solar wind and predicted the Parker spiral shape of the solar magnetic field in the outer Solar System. His theoretical modeling was not immediately accepted by the astronomical community: when he submitted the results to The Astrophysical Journal, two reviewers recommended its rejection. The editor of the journal, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, overruled the reviewers and published the paper anyway.[5][6] Parker's theoretical predictions were confirmed by satellite observations a few years later, especially the 1962 Mariner 2 mission.[7]

Parker's work increased understanding of the solar corona, the solar wind, the magnetic fields of both the Earth and the Sun, and their complex electromagnetic interactions. In 1972, he formulated what became known as the Parker theorem, which showed how the topology of magnetic field lines in the solar corona of the Sun (and similar stars) can produce flares at X-ray energies.[8][9]

He published several textbooks, including Cosmical Magnetic Fields in 1979, and one on magnetic fields in X-ray astronomy in 1994.[10] Seeking to address the coronal heating problem, in 1987 Parker proposed that the solar corona might be heated by myriad tiny "nanoflares", miniature brightenings resembling solar flares that would occur all over the surface of the Sun. Parker's theory became a leading candidate to explain the problem.[4][10]

Personal life[edit]

Parker was married for 67 years to his wife, Niesje, with whom he had two children. He died in Chicago on March 15, 2022, at the age of 94.[2][3]

Honors and awards[edit]


  • Interplanetary Dynamical Processes, 1963, Interscience Publishers. ISBN 978-0-47-065916-8.
  • Cosmical Magnetic Fields: Their Origin and their Activity, 1979, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-851290-5.
  • Spontaneous Current Sheets in Magnetic Fields: With Applications to Stellar X-rays, 1994, Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-507371-3.
  • Conversations on Electric and Magnetic Fields in the Cosmos, 2007, Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-12841-2.


  1. ^ "Eugene Parker, 'legendary figure' in solar science and namesake of Parker Solar Probe, 1927-2022 | University of Chicago News". March 16, 2022. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  2. ^ a b c Chang, Kenneth (March 17, 2022). "Eugene N. Parker, 94, Dies; Predicted the Existence of Solar Wind". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c Lerner, Louise (March 16, 2022). "Eugene Parker, 'legendary figure' in solar science and namesake of Parker Solar Probe, 1927–2022". University of Chicago. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d Tatarewicz, Joseph N. "Eugene N. Parker (1912– )". Honors program. American Geophysical Union. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
  5. ^ Parker, E. N. (1997), "The martial art of scientific publication", EOS Transactions, 78 (37): 391, Bibcode:1997EOSTr..78..391P, doi:10.1029/97EO00251
  6. ^ Roach, John. "Astrophysicist Recognized for Discovery of Solar Wind". National Geographic News. National Geographic. Archived from the original on August 30, 2003. Retrieved June 2, 2017.
  7. ^ Chang, Kenneth (August 10, 2018). "NASA's Parker Solar Probe Is Named for Him. 60 Years Ago, No One Believed His Ideas About the Sun". The New York Times. After Mariner 2, 'everyone agreed the solar wind existed,' Dr. Parker said.
  8. ^ Parker, E. N. (1990), "Formal mathematical solutions of the force-free equations, spontaneous discontinuities, and dissipation in large-scale magnetic fields", Physics of Magnetic Flux Ropes, Washington, D. C.: American Geophysical Union, pp. 195–202, retrieved January 7, 2024
  9. ^ Chhabra, Sherry (April 30, 2022). "Obituary: Eugene N. Parker (1927 - 2022)". SolarNews. Retrieved January 7, 2024.
  10. ^ a b c Tenn, Joseph S. "Eugene Newman Parker: 1997 Bruce Medalist". Sonoma State University. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
  11. ^ "Arctowski Medal". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on December 29, 2010. Retrieved February 13, 2011.
  12. ^ "Henry Norris Russell Lectureship". American Astronomical Society. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  13. ^ "George Ellery Hale Prize – Previous Winners". AAS Solar Physics Division. Retrieved March 16, 2022.
  14. ^ "Chapman Medal winners" (PDF). Awards, medals and prizes. Royal Astronomical Society. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
  15. ^ "Eugene N. Parker". The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details. National Science Foundation. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
  16. ^ "The Gold Medal" (PDF). Royal Astronomical Society. 2021. Retrieved December 20, 2021.
  17. ^ "Citation: Eugene Newman Parker". Kyoto Prize. Inamori Foundation. Archived from the original on December 11, 2013. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
  18. ^ Roach, John (August 27, 2003). "Astrophysicist Recognized for Discovery of Solar Wind". National Geographic News. Archived from the original on August 30, 2003. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
  19. ^ "2003 James Clerk Maxwell Prize for Plasma Physics Recipient". Prizes, Awards and Fellowships. American Physical Society. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
  20. ^ "Gruppe 2: Fysikkfag (herunder astronomi, fysikk og geofysikk)" (in Norwegian). Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. Archived from the original on September 27, 2011. Retrieved October 7, 2010.
  21. ^ N. Davis (May 31, 2017). "Nasa's hotly anticipated solar mission renamed to honour astrophysicist Eugene Parker". The Guardian. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
  22. ^ "NASA Renames Solar Probe Mission to Honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker". NASA. May 31, 2017. Retrieved May 31, 2017.
  23. ^ "Award honors Prof. Eugene Parker's lifetime of physics research". UChicago News. January 31, 2018. Retrieved February 1, 2018.
  24. ^ "The Crafoord Prizes in Mathematics and Astronomy 2020". January 30, 2020. Retrieved March 17, 2022.