NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, a historic mission to solve the mysteries of the Sun, is alive and well after record setting close encounter with Sun at just 15 million miles from its surface. On November 5, the spacecraft set a new record of reaching a top speed of 213,200 miles per hour.
This is far closer than any spacecraft has ever gone - the previous record was set by Helios B in 1976 and broken by Parker on October 29 - and this manoeuvre has exposed the spacecraft to intense heat and solar radiation in a complex solar wind environment, NASA said in a statement on Thursday.
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“Parker Solar Probe was designed to take care of itself and its precious payload during this close approach, with no control from us on Earth — and now we know it succeeded,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington.
“Parker is the culmination of six decades of scientific progress. Now, we have realized humanity’s first close visit to our star, which will have implications not just here on Earth, but for a deeper understanding of our universe.”
At this distance, the intense sunlight heated the Sun-facing side of Parker Solar Probe’s heat shield, called the Thermal Protection System, to about 820 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature will climb up to 2,500 Fahrenheit as the spacecraft makes closer approaches to the Sun, NASA said.
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What is NASA's Parker Solar Probe?
The probe is named after US physicist Eugene Parker, whose early theory of solar winds – supersonic particles being shot out of the sun in all directions – were confirmed by the first space missions after World War II. Parker, now 91 also travelled to NASA ‘s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida to attend the launch of his namesake satellite. The mission, which is coming at a cost of USD 1.5 billion, is aimed to study the sun, and send back scientific data to Earth on its findings.
The Parker Solar Probe is protected by an ultra-powerful heat shield that can endure unprecedented levels of heat, and radiation 500 times that experienced on Earth.
Parker Solar Probe carries the names of 1.1 million people on a memory card mounted on a plaque on the satellite, along with images of Eugene Parker.
(With agency inputs)