NASA's Parker Solar Probe is once again rewriting the record books as it delves deeper into the mysteries of our Sun. The spacecraft's 17th close approach to our star, known as perihelion, occurred on Wednesday, September 27, when it ventured to within a mere 4.51 million miles (7.26 million kilometers) of the Sun's scorching surface, breaking its own previous record.
This historic moment took place at 7:28 p.m. ET, marking the midpoint of a solar encounter that began on September 22 and will continue until October 3. The Parker Solar Probe's astonishing speed, propelled by a gravity boost from Venus in August, reached an incredible 394,736 mph (635,266 km/hr), solidifying its status as the fastest human-made object ever relative to the Sun.
Since its launch in August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe has been on a relentless mission to unravel the secrets of our Sun. It shattered the previous record set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976, becoming the closest human-made object to the Sun in history, much to the delight of Pink Floyd, whose iconic album "The Wall" famously referenced the Helios 2 mission.
Furthermore, the probe achieved another remarkable feat by becoming the first spacecraft to navigate through the Sun's outer atmosphere, known as the corona, a development that has thrilled space enthusiasts worldwide.
Equipped with cutting-edge heat shields, the Parker Solar Probe's primary objective is to study the Sun's corona and collect vital data. Scientists aim to demystify the Sun's complex structure, understand the enigmatic corona, and uncover the origins of the solar wind, all while exploring the unknowns of our closest star.
This knowledge is of paramount importance because solar processes have a profound impact on space weather, posing potential threats to satellites, communication networks, and even Earth's power grids.
In early September, the Parker Solar Probe navigated through one of the most intense coronal mass ejections (CMEs) ever observed. This groundbreaking event validated a two-decade-old theory suggesting that CMEs, colossal solar eruptions, interact with interplanetary dust, a finding that holds significant implications for space weather forecasting.
Despite its close proximity to the Sun, NASA reports that the Parker Solar Probe remains in excellent health. The spacecraft is scheduled to transmit status data to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland on October 1, followed by the transmission of science data, primarily focusing on the solar wind. This data will further aid researchers in their quest to gain a deeper understanding of the Sun's intricate dynamics.
The Parker Solar Probe's ongoing mission continues to captivate the world with its groundbreaking discoveries and unrivaled proximity to our Sun, shedding new light on the star at the center of our solar system.