Nasa's Solar Probe closer to the sun than ever in history

Nasa's ambitious Solar Parker Probe (PSP) has just got closer to the solar surface than any other spacecraft in history.

Yesterday, it surpassed the record of 26.6 million miles (43 million kilometers) from the sun set by Helios-2 back in 1976.

The probe's mission will take it through the sun's corona for the first time next week. It will pass within 15 million miles (24 million km) of the surface of the sun.

The $1.5 billion spacecraft will study the sun during 24 close flybys over the next seven years, getting closer and closer to our star each time.

At one point, the probe even snapped a picture of Earth as it hurtled away from us.

‘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,' said project manager Andy Driesman, from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland, USA.

‘It's a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on Oct. 31.'

The Parker Solar Probe team periodically measures the spacecraft's precise speed and position using Nasa's Deep Space Network, or DSN.

The DSN sends a signal to the spacecraft, which then retransmits it back to the DSN, allowing the team to determine the spacecraft's speed and position based on the timing and characteristics of the signal.

PSP's mission is due to last seven years, with the probe set to fly up to 3.8 million miles (6.1 million km) from the sun's surface – seven times closer than any spacecraft before it.

The average distance between the sun and Earth is 93 million miles (150 million km).

It is hoped that PSP can help scientists to better understand solar flares: intense high-energy radiation from the sun's surface that interfere with communications on Earth.

‘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,' the space agency said.

‘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.'


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