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NASA's Parker Solar Probe breaks two all-time space records

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Tuesday, October 30, 2018, 4:02 PM - NASA's Parker Solar Probe hasn't even completed its first historic swing around the Sun, but just this week it broke two space records that have held for over 42 years!

Back in early 1976, the United States and Germany launched a joint mission, named Helios 2, to study the Sun. By April of that year, the spacecraft had set new records for closest distance to the Sun, and speed travelling around the Sun.

On October 29, 2018, over 42 years later, NASA's new Parker Solar Probe just broke both of those long-standing records!

According to NASA, as of 1:04 p.m. EDT on the 29th, the probe is now closer than 42.73 million km (26.55 million miles) from the Sun.

As of 10:54 p.m. EDT on the 29th, it was travelling faster than 246,960 km/h (153,454 mph), relative to the Sun (heliocentric speed).

"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," Andy Driesman, Project Manager of the Parker Solar Probe mission, told NASA. "It's a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on Oct. 31."

Parker Solar Probe, shown in this animation, became the closest-ever spacecraft to the Sun on Oct. 29, 2018, when it passed within 26.55 million miles of the Sun’s surface. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL

For comparison, Earth's average heliocentric speed is 107,200 km/h, while the planet Mercury - the closest planet to the Sun, and thus the fastest-moving - travels at 170,500 km/h.


When the Parker Solar Probe makes its first pass around the Sun, on November 5, 2018, it will reach a closest distance (perihelion) of just 24.8 million km, and it will be travelling at a speed of 342,000 km/h.

At that speed, it will break all speed records, in all of the solar system, even surpassing NASA Juno's speed of 265,000 km/h, as it made its closest pass around Jupiter, in July of 2016.

From then, it will get closer and closer to the Sun, and travel faster and faster at each increment of the mission, until the year 2025, when it will reach just 6.9 million km from the Sun, at a speed of 691,200 km/h.

Watch below to see how the Parker Solar Probe will reach these new records

According to NASA:

Parker Solar Probe will begin its first solar encounter on Oct. 31, continuing to fly closer and closer to the Sun's surface until it reaches its first perihelion - the point closest to the Sun - at about 10:28 p.m. EST on Nov. 5. The spacecraft will face brutal heat and radiation conditions while providing humanity with unprecedentedly close-up observations of a star and helping us understand phenomena that have puzzled scientists for decades. These observations will add key knowledge to NASA’s efforts to understand the Sun, where changing conditions can propagate out into the solar system, affecting Earth and other worlds.

Watch out for more updates on this, in the week to come!


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