Nasa spacecraft sets record for closest approach to sun

Illustration of NASA's Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun

Illustration of NASA's Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun

Launched in August, Parker is on track to set another record late Monday night.

At about 10:54 p.m. EDT, Parker is expected to surpass the record for heliocentric speed, which is 153,454 miles per hour, set by Helios 2 in April 1976.

The spacecraft's team measures its precise speed and position using NASA's Deep Space Network, which sends signals to the spacecraft.

NASA's Parker Solar Probe, which launched earlier this year, has set a new record for becoming the closest human-made object to the Sun, the U.S. space agency announced Monday. 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.

PSP's mission is due to last seven years, with the probe set to fly up to 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the sun's surface - seven times closer than any spacecraft before it.

They will also investigate why the sun's corona is significantly hotter, at several million degrees Fahrenheit, than its surface, which remains at around 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Well, it's to do with how fast we're all travelling right now.

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The spacecraft passed within 26.55 million miles of the sun's surface.

The simplest way to reach the Sun directly from Earth would be to launch a spacecraft in the opposite direction with enough power to cancel out the energy it carried from Earth's orbit - effectively coming to a stop and then "falling" inwards towards the Sun.

"It's a bit like if you walked away from a campfire and suddenly got much hotter", Fox said.

The agency's first spacecraft named after a living person (physicist Eugene Parker) launched on August 12; it features a memory card containing photos of Parker and a copy of his 1958 scientific paper predicting important aspects of solar physics. The previous record was set back in 1976, that having been bumped to second place at approximately 1:04PM EDT today.

Nicky Fox, Parker Solar Probe's project scientist, added: "The Sun's energy is always flowing past our world".

The spacecraft sports a special carbon-composite shield to protect itself and its instruments from intense heat and radiation during its close flybys.

At the same time, the probe has to withstand enormous temperatures of up to 1,377 Celsius (2,500 Fahrenheit).

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