One mystery in our universe is a step closer to being solved. NASA's Parker Solar Probe launched last year to help scientists understand the sun. Now, it has returned its first findings. Four papers were published in the journal Nature detailing the findings of Parker's first two flybys. It's one small step for a solar probe, one giant leap for mankind.

It is astounding that we've advanced to the point where we've managed to build a probe capable of flying within 15 million miles from the surface of the sun, but here we are. Parker can withstand temperatures of up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and travels at 430,000 miles per hour. It's the fastest human-made vehicle, and no other human-made object has been so close to the sun.

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NASA Creates Awesome iPad App for Science Education

The new "Visualization Explorer" app takes NASA's trove of satellite data and brings it to life in a free app.

The space shuttle program may be over, but NASA's ability to inspire the next generation of science, technology, engineering and math experts is as strong as ever. On Tuesday they released a free iPad app, the Visualization Explorer, which "allows users to easily interact with extraordinary images, video, and information about NASA's latest earth science research."

Designed by media specialists at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, the app's incredible visuals come from computer images based on data captured by NASA's satellites. The app has the potential to make teaching and learning about science a lot cooler. Imagine how instead of simply reading about topics like "climate change, aerosols, glaciers, hurricanes, volcanoes and wildfire" in a textbook, students with access to the app can explore the data-based visualizations and see those topics truly brought to life.

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The Upside of Tanning

Suntanning may get a bad rap, but it's also nature's best source of vitamin D. That, and other reasons why soaking up the rays isn't all bad.

"The Upside of..." is a new series that uncovers surprising benefits of things universally panned for being unhealthy and/or bad for the environment. Basically, it makes you feel a little less guilty about your vices.

Palefaces and tanning addicts! I bring you glad tidings. Tanning and sun exposure are less nefarious than we all previously thought. True, soaking up the rays can be unhealthy and potentially fatal. But before you hide under that beach umbrella all summer, consider the following ways sun worship may actually benefit you:

Sun exposure is the most effective way to get vitamin D. Vitamin D’s benefits go beyond strong bones; every tissue in the body, from brain to heart, muscles and immune system, has vitamin D receptors. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to cancers of the colon, breast and prostate, high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and other maladies. And most sun-phobic Americans—hiding behind our floppy hats and zinc oxide-smeared noses—are perpetually, and sorely, lacking in vitamin D.

You can meet some of your daily vitamin D requirement through nutritional supplements and diet, like wild-caught oily fishes and fortified milk. But your best bet is simply to manufacture your own vitamin D through exposure to UVB rays. The Harvard School of Public Health, Cancer Research UK and Australian health authorities now recommend “little and frequent” sun exposure, wearing no UVB-blocking sunscreen to inhibit your body’s natural vitamin D production.

There's a chemical found in most sunscreens that's a proven carcinogen. This just in from researchers at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Oxybenzone, an ingredient in sunscreen that blocks ultraviolet light, can imitate the effects of estrogen in the body, stimulating cancer cells to grow. Of course, you’d need to ingest vatfuls of the stuff before any adverse effects kick in, so don't go blazing around the house dumping your sunscreen in the trash just yet.

Sunlight beats back seasonal affective disorder in winter. Having lived in Berlin for several cruel winters, I can affirm all the folk remedies northern Europeans use to buck up in the dimly lit winters: popping cod liver oil capsules, walking outdoors during the peak sunlit hours, and visiting tanning beds for very short doses of UV light. Happily, the Mayo Clinic backs all these techniques; they also suggest taking St. John’s Wort, melatonin, SAMe and omega-3 fatty acids. But of all of these, exposing yourself to real sunlight, unfiltered through windowpanes, is undoubtedly best.

The tan is still a good look. Self-tanners may be safe, but the carroty-orange effect doesn’t hold a candle—or a lightbox—to the après-soleil allure of Coco Chanel, who first popularized the sun-kissed look in the 1920s after she accidentally got a sunburn. Why visually label yourself a grind who fears the outdoors?

As a blond with the dangerously alabaster skin to match, not to mention a family history of skin cancers, I’m watching my step outdoors and urge you to do the same. But the sun can be salubrious in small doses. Bottom line? Don’t be a rabid tanner–or a rabid absolutist–about tanning. Or about anything, really.

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Image of the Day: The Sun's Enormous Solar Prominence

The Solar Dynamics Observatory captures an image of an enormous prominence around the sun. Check out this accompanying video.

The Solar Dynamics Observatory captures an image of an enormous solar prominence around the sun. To put this in perspective, Bad Astronomy points out that the Earth would appear about 5 pixels by comparison. (Our image is slightly smaller, meaning you could barely see the Earth on this scale.) The prominence is estimated to be 434,960 miles across.

Via Gawker

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