NASA probe gets closer to the sun, breaks record

The probe is named in honour of astrophysicist Dr Eugene Parker

Image The probe is named in honour of astrophysicist Dr Eugene Parker

NASA's Parker Solar Probe has set the record for the closest approach to the Sun by a man-made object. The probe will fly through the corona for the first time this week, and it will be only 15 million miles away from the sun's surface.

Parker will make 24 close approaches to the sun over the next seven years, ultimately coming within just six million kilometres.

Parker Solar Probe is also expected to break the record for fastest spacecraft traveling relative to the Sun on October 29 at about 10:54 p.m. EDT. His speed was 153,454 miles per hour.

The $1.5 billion unmanned spacecraft launched in August, on a strategic mission to protect the Earth by unveiling the mysteries of risky solar storms.

Data collected by the Parker Solar Probe, NASA said, will add "key knowledge" to the agency's understanding of our Sun, "where changing conditions can propagate out into the Solar System, affecting Earth and other worlds".

Until 2024 Parker should approach the Sun at a distance of 6.1 million kilometers.

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"It's a proud moment for the team", Project Manager Andy Driesman said, "though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on October 31." .

Before that, in the near spacecraft, which landed on this star, was "Helios-2", in 1976. Scientists expect Parker to reach a peak speed of nearly 190km/s (690,000km/h; 428,700mph) - but it will happen sometime in 2025. On its closest approach in the year 2024, Parker Solar Probe will be travelling at approx 430,000 miles per hour and it will set a new record for a manmade object.

The team periodically measures the spacecraft's precise speed and position using NASA's Deep Space Network, or DSN.

He also explained that they're very proud, but will also "remain focused on our first solar encounter".

The Parker Solar Probe will continue to accelerate and close in on the sun until around 3:30 a.m. GMT on 6 November (11:30 p.m. 5 November EST), when it will reach "perihelion" - the closest point in its orbit, and begin its long swing back out past the orbit of Venus.

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

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