NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has survived yet another blisteringly close approach to the sun.
The space agency confirmed the successful completion of its brief encounter on Friday morning, after it passed within just 15 million miles (24 million km) of the solar surface the evening prior.
This is the closest a spacecraft has ever come to the sun and Parker’s second time doing so, tying with the record it set back in November during its first close approach.
NASA says all systems appear healthy, and expects data from the encounter to begin coming in over the next few weeks.
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NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has survived yet another blisteringly close approach to the sun. The space agency confirmed the successful completion of its brief encounter on Friday morning, after it passed within just 15 million miles (24 million km) of the solar surface the evening prior
HOW BIG IS THE PARKER SOLAR PROBE?
Launch mass -1,510 lb (685 kg)
Dry mass – 1,224 lb (555 kg)
Payload mass – 110 lb (50 kg)
Dimensions – 3.3 ft × 9.8 ft × 7.5 ft) (1.0 m × 3.0 m × 2.3 m)
The probe, roughly the size of a family hatchback, has come closer to the sun than any other man-made object on two separate occasions.
During the close approaches, it must contend with extreme cosmic radiation – 500 times more intense than on Earth – and temperatures of 1,300°C (2,400°F).
When it passed within 15 million miles of the sun, Parker was traveling at 213,200 mph (343,000 kph) – fast enough to fly between New York and London 39 times in one hour.
The Parker probe reached its closest point at 6:40 p.m. EDT on April 4th during its second closest approach, and will now be transmitting the data back home.
‘The spacecraft is performing as designed, and it was great to be able to track it during this entire perihelion,’ said Nickalaus Pinkine, Parker Solar Probe mission operations manager at APL
‘We’re looking forward to getting the science data down from this encounter in the coming weeks so the science teams can continue to explore the mysteries of the corona and the sun.’
The probe first entered the sun’s orbit in November and has been approaching steadily closer ever since. Its final pass in 2024 will be just 3.8 million miles (6.1m km) from its surface, when it will burn up.
NASA designed the probe to protect its fragile internal instruments from the harsh conditions and deflect most of the sun’s heat.
The Parker probe, roughly the size of a family hatchback, has come closer to the sun than any other man-made object. On two occasions, it’s passed just 15 million miles (24 million km) away from its surface
The US space agency hopes to maintain an internal temperature of 29°C (84°F) and take vital measurements of the corona to unpick the mystique surrounding our closest star.
For example, scientists are expecting to receive vital data to help explain a long-standing mystery among physicists – why the corona is 300 hotter than the sun’s surface.
Our star still poses many unanswered questions, chief among them how it is capable of producing such violent plumes of material, known as solar flares or coronal mass ejections.
These ions – charged particles – travel at extraordinary speeds, up to half the speed of light, before swamping all objects in the solar system and dousing them in potentially fatal radiation.
Earth is protected by these by our planet’s thick atmosphere and strong magnetic field and, for the most part, they only manifest themselves as auroras at the north and south poles.
Stronger events are capable of affecting electronics on Earth, with GPS and other satellite-reliant services affected.
‘Parker Solar Probe is providing us with the measurements essential to understanding solar phenomena that have been puzzling us for decades,’ said Nour Raouafi, Parker Solar Probe project scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Maryland.
The Parker Solar Probe will ultimately complete a total of 24 planned orbits over the next seven years, bringing it closer and closer to the surface. The probe’s position, speed and round-trip light time as of Jan. 28, 2019 is illustrated in the graphic above
‘To close the link, local sampling of the solar corona and the young solar wind is needed and Parker Solar Probe is doing just that.’
This cosmic meeting between mankind and the stars will last until April 10 and NASA will lose contact with the spacecraft during this time.
It will be completing its orbit and focusing its resources on maintaining its heat shield in the direction of the sun’s unrelenting assault of heat and charged particles.
A mission to the depths of the sun required materials capable of withstanding conditions unlike anything humankind has ever experienced.
Meeting the astounding astrophysical challenges required NASA to create new materials with remarkable thermal properties.
A carbon-composite shell 4.5 inches (11.5cm) thick was developed which is fitted to the probe and provides it with the bulk of its protection.
WHAT IS NASA’S PARKER SOLAR PROBE?
The Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is set to travel seven times closer to the sun than any spacecraft before it
Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe (PSP) is set to travel seven times closer to the sun than any spacecraft before it.
lt launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket on August 12 2018.
The probe will fly to the sun’s outer atmosphere to study life of stars and their weather events.
It is hoped that PSP can help scientists to better understand solar flares – brief eruptions of intense high-energy radiation from the sun’s surface that can knock out communications on Earth.
The spacecraft will swoop within 4 million miles (6.5 million km) of the sun’s surface – bringing it seven times closer to the sun’s surface than any spacecraft before it.
The craft will face extremes in heat and radiation and will reach speeds of up to 430,000 miles per hour (700,000 kph) at its closest flyby of the star.
The craft’s kit includes a white light imager called Whisper, which will take images of solar waves as the craft propels through them at high speeds.
To measure the ‘bulk plasma’ of solar winds – described by Nasa as the ‘bread and butter’ of the flares – a set of magnetic imaging equipment will also be stored on board.