NASA spacecraft breaks record for coming closest to Sun

Illustration of NASA's Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun

Modal Trigger Illustration of NASA's Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. NASA

In April of 1976, the German-American Helios 2 probe made spaceflight's closest-ever solar approach, cruising within 26.55 million miles (42.73 million kilometers) of the sun. And the sun's powerful gravity will eventually accelerate the probe to a top speed of around 430,000 miles per hour (690,000 km/h), NASA officials have said.

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".

It is also expected to beat the geocentric speed record on its final pass around the Sun by a gobsmacking number, hitting an estimated top speed of 692,017 km/h (430,000 mph) - although that won't be until 2025.

Parker will make 24 close approaches to the sun over the next seven years, ultimately coming within just 3.8 million miles. The previous record was set in April 1976 by the Helios 2 spacecraft.

That record was likewise set by the Helios 2 back in 1976, and it now stands at 153,454MPH.

The Parker Solar Probe, humanity's first-ever mission into the Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, has become the closest human-made object to ever approach our star. Even the massive Delta IV Heavy (above) that launched the Parker Solar Probe on 12 August 2018 falls well short. At that time, NASA expects the spacecraft to come within 3.83 million miles of the Sun's surface. On 31 October, Parker will encounter the Sun for the first time and reach the first perihelion on 5-6 November (10:28 pm EST/3:28 am UTC).

At the same time, the probe has to withstand huge temperatures of up to 1,377 Celsius (2,500 Fahrenheit). Dries man also said that it is a very proud moment for the whole team, but they are focused on their first solar encounter on October 31. The spacecraft uses a special carbon-composite shield for protection from intense heat and radiation during close flybys.

The NASA Parker Solar Probe blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US, this summer.

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