Space­craft makes the clos­est-ever so­lar ap­proach

The probe was ex­posed to in­tense heat and so­lar ra­di­a­tion in a com­plex so­lar wind en­vi­ron­ment, NASA says

All About Space - - Launch Pad -

NASA's Parker So­lar Probe has man­aged to sur­vive a trip which took it closer to the Sun than any space­craft be­fore it. The ves­sel got within 24 mil­lion kilo­me­tres (15 mil­lion miles) of the sur­face of our star while en­dur­ing tem­per­a­tures of some 2 mil­lion de­grees Cel­sius (3.6 mil­lion de­grees Fahren­heit) be­fore in­di­cat­ing to con­trollers back on Earth that it was safe and still func­tion­ing.

It's the first time a space­craft has pen­e­trated the outer at­mos­phere of the Sun, and it did so at 343,273 kilo­me­tres (213,200 miles) per hour at its clos­est ap­proach – set­ting a speed record in the process. Sci­en­tists are hop­ing to get the space­craft even closer: by 2025 it will get within 6.1 mil­lion kilo­me­tres (3.83 mil­lion miles) of the Sun's sur­face when it will ac­cel­er­ate to a speedy 692,017 kilo­me­tres (430,000 miles) per hour thanks to the Sun's grav­ity.

Be­fore then the probe will make 23 fur­ther ap­proaches, with the next due to take place in April. It is hoped the space­craft will teach us much about the struc­ture of the Sun, its com­po­si­tion and ac­tiv­ity, while also shedding light on why the corona is much hot­ter than the sur­face.

“These ob­ser­va­tions, gath­ered closer to the Sun than ever be­fore, will help sci­en­tists be­gin to an­swer out­stand­ing ques­tions about the Sun’s fun­da­men­tal physics,” NASA says. The pre­vi­ous clos­est en­counter with the Sun was made by He­lios 2 in 1976, which got to within 42.8 mil­lion kilo­me­tres (26.6 mil­lion miles) of the sur­face.

An artist's im­pres­sion of the Parker So­lar Probe – named after physi­cist Eu­gene Parker – get­ting close to the Sun

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