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Solar spacecraft smashes records for speed and proximity to the Sun

Enlarge Image This illustration shows the probe nearing the sun.                  NASA  Johns Hopkins APL  Steve Gribben Enlarge Image This illustration shows the probe nearing the sun. NASA Johns Hopkins APL Steve Gribben
Sandy Nunez | 03 November, 2018, 02:27

"The previous record for closest solar approach was set by the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft in April 1976."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".

The NASA's Parker Solar Probe Spacecraft made the closest ever approach of a man-made spacecraft to the sun on Monday, Oct. 29.

However, on 29 October the new probe sent by NASA is expected to overcome the Helios 2 heliocentric speed record, at the time 10:54 pm EDT.

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

"It's been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we've now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history", Project Manager Andy Driesman, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., said in a press release.

On Oct. 31, 2018, Parker Solar Probe began its first of 24 solar encounters.

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The spacecraft is carrying a number of state-of-the-art instruments, allowing NASA scientists to collect vital data in order to answer fundamental questions about the Earth's closest star. Parker was one of the first in the world of specialists involved in studies of the solar wind.

The current distance of the spacecraft from the Sun is still quite large, but it might change because the probe is moving closer towards the Sun.

It is scheduled to reach its first perihelion on November 5 at 10 p.m. EST.

Scientists hope the probe will solve some of the sun's mysteries, such as why the corona is hotter than the surface of the sun itself. To calculate the speed and distance of the Parker Solar Probe, the space agency utilizes its Deep Space Network, or DSN. As it gets nearer to the star's surface, the probe will face formidable heat and radiation, which it will fend off with a maneuverable shield always pointed toward the flaming ball of fire at the center of our Solar System. This means that it will be within the crown of the Sun, that is the outer layers of its atmosphere where temperatures can reach 500 thousand Kelvin (about 500 thousand degrees Celsius) and even several millions of Kelvins.