When Eugene Parker was 16 years old, he decided he didn’t want to spend the summer hanging out in suburban Detroit. So Parker went up to the state capital looking to buy some tax delinquent land held by the state.
He selected a 40-acre piece of woods in far-off Cheboygan County, not far from Mackinac Island. There was nothing on the land but trees. He bought it with $120 from his own earlier summertime earnings.
Over the next three summers, Parker, his younger brother and sometimes a cousin and a friend constructed a log cabin on the land. Because this was during World War II and gas was strictly rationed, they couldn’t ask their parents for a ride up, and so they often bicycled the more than 300 miles to their homestead.
The cabin still doesn’t have electricity or indoor running water, but it has been used regularly by Parker and his family for almost 80 years. And in many ways, that cabin reflects the basic character, the drive and the profound originality of the boy who built it and went on to become one of the great theoretical physicists of the 20th century.
Eugene Parker, who passed away earlier this month at 94, has been hailed as the father of solar physics and is perhaps best known as the man who — basically single-handedly and despite many eminent critics –came up with the theory of the “solar wind,” a torrent of charged particles and magnetic fields that always and in all directions is blasting out from the Sun.
Parker’s innumerable achievements in his field, as well as his old-school civility and demeanor, earned him the first and only honor of its kind given by NASA — having a major space mission named after him while alive.
Ailing and aged 91, he nonetheless went with his family down to Florida in 2018 to watch the launch of the Parker Solar Probe — an extraordinary mission that flies through the blast furnace of the Sun’s corona in its effort to learn more about the origins of the solar wind and the forces at play that produce that still mysterious solar corona.… Read more