NASA spacecraft sets record for closest approach to sun

Katie Ramirez
November 1, 2018

"It's only been 78 days after Parker Solar Probe launched, and now we are close to our star, closer than any other spacecraft in history", said project Manager Andy Grisman. The previous record was established in April 1976, by the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft.

Earth orbits the sun at a speed of around 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) every second. After that, the probe will burn up in the sunlight.

The space agency said in a statement on Monday that Parker passed the current record of 26.55 million miles (42.73 million km) from the Sun's surface. Since then, he already flew close to Venus - she helped the probe to adjust the trajectory, so that he could approach the Sun close enough. The previous record was set back in 1976, that having been bumped to second place at approximately 1:04PM EDT today. Even the massive Delta IV Heavy (above) that launched the Parker Solar Probe on 12 August 2018 falls well short.

On October 31, the day of Halloween, NASA will begin its first so-called solar encounter with the burning star.

Over the next seven years the Parker Solar Probe will repeat this manoeuvre six more times, losing a little bit of orbital energy with each pass.

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The probe's mission will take it through the sun's corona for the first time next week. "It's a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter". As the Parker Solar Probe mission progresses, the spacecraft will repeatedly break its own records, with a final close approach of 3.83 million miles from the Sun's surface expected in 2024.

To withstand the heat of almost 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe is protected by a special 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield.

While Parker is in orbit around the Sun seven years, if the earlier does not fail.

The craft will seek to unlock some of mysteries about our Sun's behavior by sampling the corona, the birthplace of solar flares and other violent events, and get a better understanding of how solar winds are formed.

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