The Parker Solar Probe now holds the record for closest approach to the sun by a human-made object. The spacecraft – which launched on August 12, 2018 – passed the current record of 26.55 million miles (43 million km) from the sun’s surface yesterday (October 29, 2018).
The previous record for closest solar approach was set by the German-American Helios 2 spacecraft in April 1976. As the Parker Solar Probe mission progresses, the spacecraft will repeatedly break its own records, with a final close approach of 3.83 million miles (6.2 million km) from the sun’s surface expected in 2024.
Parker Solar Probe will begin its first solar encounter tomorrow (October 31), continuing to fly closer and closer to the sun’s surface until it reaches its first perihelion – the point closest to the sun – on November 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.
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. It’s a proud moment for the team, though we remain focused on our first solar encounter, which begins on October 31.
Parker Solar Probe is also expected to break the record for fastest spacecraft traveling relative to the sun, also on October 29. The current record for heliocentric speed is 153,454 miles per hour, set by Helios 2 in April 1976.
According to a NASA statement:
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. Parker Solar Probe’s speed and position were calculated using DSN measurements made on October 24, and the team used that information along with known orbital forces to calculate the spacecraft’s speed and position from that point on.
Bottom line: The Parker Solar Probe broke the record for closest approach to the sun by a human-made object on October 29, 2018.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.