NASA’s Parker spacecraft makes 1st close approach to sun


Earlier this year, the United States space agency's Parker Solar Probe launched with the mission to study the Sun.

On Nov. 5, 2018, Parker Solar Probe achieved its first close approach to the Sun, called perihelion, a maneuver that exposed the spacecraft to intense heat and solar radiation.

The Parker Solar Probe flew within 15 million miles (24 million kilometres) of the sun's surface Monday night.

The final close approach, in late 2025, will take the Parker Solar Probe within just 3.83 million miles (6.16 million km) of the sun's surface.

During perihelion, the spacecraft reached a top speed of 213,200 mph (343,100 km per hour) relative to the Sun, setting a new record for spacecraft speed.

Researchers hope to learn how energy and heat move through the sun's solar cornea and explore what accelerates both solar wind and solar energetic particles - discoveries six-decades in the making. The spacecraft will make 23 additional solar flybys during this span, getting closer and closer to our star.

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Members of the Parker Solar Probe mission team celebrate on November 7, 2018, after receiving a beacon indicating the NASA spacecraft is in good health following its first close solar flyby. "Now, we have realised humanity's first close visit to our star, which will have implications not just here on Earth, but for a deeper understanding of our universe", said Mr. Zurbuchen.

At this distance, the intense sunlight heated the Sun-facing side of Probe's heat shield, called the Thermal Protection System, to about 820 degrees Fahrenheit. For reference, the spacecraft set that particular "closest approach" record by creeping within 26.55 million miles of the Sun.

The beacon indicated status "A" - the best of all four possible status signals, meaning that Parker Solar Probe is operating well with all instruments running and collecting science data and, if there were any minor issues, they were resolved autonomously by the spacecraft.

The spacecraft will repeatedly break its own speed record as its orbit draws closer to the star and the spacecraft travels faster and faster at perihelion, NASA said.

The Parker Solar Probe began gathering data for its first pass on October 31 and will continue until November 11.