NASA's Parker Solar Probe breaks record for closest approach to sun

NASA's Parker Solar Probe, mankind's first mission to "touch" the sun, has set a new record for closest approach to the sun by a human-made object, the US space agency announced.

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.

Parker on Monday surpassed the record of 26.6 million miles (43 million kilometres) set by Helios-2 back in 1976.

"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.

Parker will make 24 close approaches to the sun over the next seven years, ultimately coming within just 3.8 million miles (6 million kilometres). "It's a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter". It reached a speed of 155,959 miles per hour, relative to the position of the Sun. By 2024, it should be up to a mind-boggling 430,000 miles per hour (692,000 km/h).

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To calculate the speed and distance of the Parker Solar Probe, the space agency utilises its Deep Space Network, or DSN. Parker Solar Probe's speed and position were calculated using DSN measurements made on October 24, and the team used that information along with known orbital forces to calculate the spacecraft's speed and position from that point on.

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.

"We've been studying the Sun for decades, and now we're finally going to go where the action is", Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, said ahead of the probe's launch in August. As it gets nearer to the star's surface, the probe will face formidable heat and radiation, which it will fend off with a manoeuvrable shield always pointed toward the flaming ball of fire at the centre of our Solar System.

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. It could also help researchers better understand space weather, such as solar storms that have the ability to cripple the Earth's power grids.

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