NASA Probe Is Now The Closest Ever Spacecraft To The Sun


NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has just become the closest ever human-made object to the Sun, passing the current record of 26.55 million miles away from the surface.

The spacecraft broke the long-standing record on October 29, 2018 at about 1.04pm EDT. The German-American Helios 2 spacecraft made the previous closest solar approach all the way back in April 1976.

The Parker Solar Probe is set to continually make and break the record for the next few years, ending with a final close encounter of just 3.83 million miles from the Sun’s surface in 2024.

The Parker Solar Probe became the closest-ever spacecraft to the Sun on Oct. 29, 2018, when it passed within 26.55 million miles of the Sun’s surface. (Credit: NASA/JHUAPL)NASA/JHUAPL

“It’s been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we’ve now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history,” said project manager Andy Driesman from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, in a statement.

“It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on October 31st.”

The probe has work to do today to reach that first brush with the Sun and is expected to break the record for the fastest craft relative to the star at about 10.54pm EDT. The current record for heliocentric speed was also set by Helios 2 in April 1976 and clocked in at 153,454 miles per hour.

Using the Sun’s own gravity to assist, the spacecraft is expected to reach a mind-boggling speed of 430,000 miles per hour. That will not only break the heliocentric speed record but also make it the fastest object ever made by human hands, as my colleague Jesse Hanahan put it.

The Parker Solar Probe will endure brutal conditions of heat and radiation during its seven-year mission to answer key questions about our star, including why its corona is so hot.

The corona is the halo around the Sun that we typically see here on Earth during a solar eclipse, although its effects can also be seen in the aurorae it causes when interacting with the magnetosphere. The surface of the Sun is roughly 10,000˚F, but the corona is much hotter at several million degrees – and scientists have no idea how since the Sun’s energy is generated at its core.

The spacecraft will loop around the Sun through this blisteringly hot corona over 20 times to try to figure that out, along with how solar energy particles and solar winds are accelerated.

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