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Behind the Cover: November 2022

4 November 2022

A new NASA mission, featured on this month’s cover, is exploring the Sun’s corona more closely than any previous effort.

Artistic depiction of a space probe and the sun

Each month, Physics Today editors explore the research and design choices that inspired the latest cover of the magazine.

In 1958 Eugene Parker published an article arguing that the Sun’s atmosphere is highly dynamic and that some of its flow could result from what he called the solar wind. Many others in the field criticized the paper, with one reviewer going so far as to say that Parker should go to the library and read about heliophysics before writing papers on the subject. The observations of the Mariner 2 mission a few years later, however, confirmed Parker’s point of view.

The latest heliophysics research effort—NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP)—was launched in 2018 and will fly closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft. By December 2024, it will be 9.86 solar radii away from the Sun’s center. Over its seven-year mission, the PSP will make observations from the minimum to the maximum of the solar cycle. NASA’s scientists and engineers designed the PSP to withstand extreme radiation, solar flares, coronal mass ejections, and other solar activity. In an article in the November issue, Nour Raouafi, the project scientist for the PSP mission, highlights the mission’s early results. The team at Physics Today unanimously chose Ben Smith’s striking illustration of the PSP for the magazine’s cover.

When designing the cover, Freddie Pagani, Physics Today’s senior graphic designer, was inspired by sci-fi posters. “I got inspiration from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan [1982], Sunshine [2007], Event Horizon [1997], and Total Recall [1990],” she says. The dark red, orange, and brown colors stand in stark contrast to the yellow of the Sun and highlight the risk of the mission.

The Industry Inc typeface used for the cover line includes a 3D font style; the background ever so slightly traces the Sun’s radius, and the foreground yellow text mirrors the glow of the Sun. In addition, the Physics Today logo text appears to be casting a shadow from the Sun’s light. Pagani says, “I’m sure nobody would notice those tiny details, but I really enjoyed focusing on them.”

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