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
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