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Parker Solar Probe breaks speed record, becomes closest spacecraft to sun


The Parker Solar Probe will begin it’s first approach to the sun on Wednesday, imagined in an artistic rendering of the probe’s journey to the star.

The Parker Solar Probe now holds two records: Closest approach to the sun by a spacecraft and fastest human-made object relative to the Sun.

Since its launch on Aug. 12 from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, the probe has passed Venus and is heading closer to the Sun. In all, the craft will travel nearly 90 million miles, passing within Mercury’s orbit and within 3.83 million miles of the sun’s atmosphere, which is expected in 2024.

At 1:04 p.m. EDT Monday, the spacecraft passed the current record of 26.55 million miles from the Sun’s surface as calculated by the Parker Solar Probe team. It broke the record set by the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft in April 1976.

“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,” Project Manager Andy Driesman, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said in a press release. “It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on Oct. 31.”

At 10:54 p.m. EDT, the craft also broke the speed record set by Helios 2, surpassing 153,454 miles per hour.

“Parker Solar Probe will repeatedly break its own records, achieving a top speed of about 430,000 miles per hour in 2024,” NASA’s Sarah Frazier wrote in a blog post. The speed of sound is 761.2 mph.

The team periodically measures the spacecraft’s precise speed and position using NASA’s Deep Space Network, or DSN. A signal is sent to the spacecraft, which then retransmits it back to the DSN, allowing the team to determine the spacecraft’s speed and position based on the timing and characteristics of the signal.

The probe will begin it’s first encounter with the Sun on Wednesday, culminating with its perihelion, or closest point to the Sun, at about 10:28 p.m. EST on Monday.

NASA said the spacecraft will provide the first close-up observations of the sun as it encounters temperatures as high as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit and brutal radiation.

The solar probe’s instruments will detect and measure the movement of electrons, protons and ions that make up the corona and the solar winds generated there.

“The Parker Solar Probe’s observations will help us answer questions like: Why is the corona a couple million degrees hotter than the sun?” Eric Christian, a space scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told UPI last month ahead of the probe’s launch. “Another question we hope to answer is: Why is the solar wind accelerating up to very high speeds in the corona? Some high-energy solar particles accelerate to nearly half the speed of light, and we don’t know why.”



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