NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has achieved a 17th close approach to the Sun, setting a new record by coming within a distance of 4.51 million miles. This milestone marks the midpoint of a solar encounter that began on September 22 and will last until October 3. With the help of a gravity boost from Venus, the probe reached speeds of 394,736 mph, solidifying its position as the fastest human-made object relative to the Sun. Since its launch in 2018, the Parker Solar Probe has surpassed the previous record set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976, making it the closest human-made object to the Sun in history.
Equipped with an advanced heat shield, the Parker Solar Probe aims to study the Sun’s corona and collect important data. Its main goal is to unravel the mysteries of the Sun’s structure, the enigmatic corona, and the origins of the solar wind. This knowledge is vital as solar processes can have significant impacts on space weather, potentially affecting satellites, communication networks, and power grids on Earth. The probe has already made history by becoming the first spacecraft to traverse the Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona. Despite its close proximity to the Sun, the Parker Solar Probe remains in good health and will continue to transmit valuable data to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.
In early September, the Parker Solar Probe flew through a highly intense coronal mass ejection (CME), validating a 20-year-old theory about the interaction between CMEs and interplanetary dust. This finding has important implications for space weather forecasting. NASA confirms that the spacecraft is operating well and is scheduled to transmit status data and scientific findings about the solar wind to aid scientists in improving their understanding of the Sun’s complex dynamics.