The man who discovered the solar wind, Eugene Parker, will receive this year’s Crafoord Prize in Astronomy. The Crafoord Prize is worth six million Swedish krona [roughly US $620,000] and is awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in partnership with the Crafoord Foundation in Lund.

The Parker Solar Probe is currently on its way to the Sun. It was launched by NASA in 2018, and its first results were reported just before Christmas. This probe is the first to be named after a living person — Eugene N. Parker, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, USA.

Eugene Parker is responsible for several fundamental discoveries about the gases that surround the Sun and other stars. He has also developed the theory of how the solar wind arises and how magnetic fields arise and change in space. When he initially presented his theories, over 50 years ago, they were strongly challenged, but they were later confirmed through observations from spacecraft.

Eugene Parker was the first person to realise that the Sun is not in equilibrium, as was previously thought. Quite the opposite, it releases mass; the charged gas of ions and electrons that makes up the Sun’s “atmosphere” is expanding as a solar wind that stretches throughout our planetary system. Parker’s ideas are also the foundation for all the forecasts about space weather, which can disrupt satellites and cause power outages here on Earth.

He will now receive the Crafoord Prize in Astronomy “for pioneering and fundamental studies of the solar wind and magnetic fields from stellar to galactic scales.”

Eugene Parker was stunned into silence when he was told about the award: “It took my breath away. I didn´t do anything for a few minutes. I of course knew about the Crafoord Prize, so I was surprised, pleasantly so.”

Eugene N. Parker is S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus, Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Enrico Fermi Institute, University of Chicago, USA. He was born in 1927 in Houghton, Michigan, USA, and received his Ph.D. in 1951 from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), Pasadena, California, USA.

The Crafoord Prize is awarded in partnership between the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Crafoord Foundation in Lund. The Academy is responsible for selecting the Laureates. The disciplines, which change every year, are mathematics and astronomy, geosciences, biosciences and polyarthritis (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis). The prize disciplines are chosen as a complement to the Nobel Prizes. The prize ceremony will be held in Stockholm on May 15 in the presence of H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf and H.M. Queen Silvia.

Anna-Greta and Holger Crafoord´s Fund was established in 1980, and the first prize was awarded in 1982. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, founded in 1739, is an independent organisation whose overall objective is to promote the sciences and strengthen their influence in society. The Academy takes special responsibility for the natural sciences and mathematics, but endeavours to promote the exchange of ideas between various disciplines.