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Parker Solar Probe Becomes Closest Spacecraft to the Sun

October 29, 2018
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Parker Solar Probe Becomes Closest Spacecraft to the Sun

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe just broke the record for closest approach to the Sun by a human-made object. 

So, the spacecraft passed the current record of 26.55 million miles from the Sun’s surface on Oct. 29, 2018, at about 1:04 p.m. EDT, as calculated by the Parker Solar Probe team.

It was the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft which set the previous record in April 1976 cruising within 26.55 million miles (42.73 million kilometers) of the sun.

“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 Parker Solar Probe Project Manager Andy Driesman, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, in a statement.

So, the spacecraft will repeatedly break its own records, with a final close approach of 3.83 million miles from the Sun’s surface happening around 2024.

Experts also expect Parker Solar Probe to break the record for fastest spacecraft traveling relative to the Sun on Oct. 29 at about 10:54 p.m. EDT. Helios 2 holds the current record, set in April 1976, for heliocentric speed at 153,454 miles per hour.

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

Parker blasted off on its odyssey atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. The rocket lit up the sky near Cape Canaveral, Florida in the early hours of Aug. 12, 2018.

However, the $1.5 billion mission will take humanity closer to the Sun than ever before. Therefore, Parker will be the first spacecraft to fly through the Sun’s corona, the outermost part of the star’s atmosphere.

Parker Solar Probe will begin its first solar encounter on Oct. 31, continuing to fly closer and closer to the Sun’s surface until it reaches its first perihelion — the point closest to the Sun — at about 10:28 p.m. EST on Nov. 5.

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Thumbnail image: An artist’s illustration of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft studying the sun. Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory

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