NASA sent the Parker Solar Probe into space in August. In September it had already delivered its First Light image and now, just over three months after its departure, the probe got close and personal with the Sun on November 5th. It has reached closer to the star than any other spacecraft ever before, breaking the record previously set by the Helios B spacecraft in 1976.
How close, you ask? Around 15 million miles from the Sun.
The Parker Probe subsequently called back home on November 7th, letting the team on Earth know that all is well and that it is currently collecting data.
“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. “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.”
The spacecraft’s beacon sent down its status towards mission control at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab indicating an “A”, which is the best out of all the possible status signals. If the spacecraft encountered any issues during the approach, it had managed to fix them autonomously.
Parker Solar Probe mission control members celebrate the positive status of the beacon following the spacecraft’s approach.
Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman
In addition to breaking the Sun approach record, the Parker probe also set a new one for spacecraft speed, managing a top speed of 213,200 miles per hour at its closest approach.
At the moment, the probe will continue to collect data all the way through the end of the encounter phase, set for November 11th. After that, it will still be a few more weeks before the data will be sent down to mission control back on Earth.
It looks like the Parker Probe has set out to accomplish great things and we’re excited to find out what mysteries it will unveil about our Solar System’s flaming giant.