Parker Solar Probe smashes record for closest approach to Sun

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A NASA probe has gotten closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft, coming within 26.65 million miles of the solar surface - and set the record for the fastest-ever man made object in the process.

A NASA sun-studying spacecraft just entered the record books.

"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", project manager Andy Driesman, of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a statement.

Seven hours later the probe had reached a speed of 69.72 km/s (kilometres per second, which translates to around 250,992 km/h or 155,959 mph) relative to the Sun. And the sun's powerful gravity will eventually accelerate the probe to a top speed of around 430,000 miles per hour (690,000 km/h), NASA officials have said.

That's fast enough to travel from NY to London in about 1 minute 20 seconds (assuming someone got the atmosphere out of the way) and beats the previous record of 68.6 km/s (246,960 km/h; 153,453 mph) set by the US/German Helios 2 probe in 1976.

Parker is expected to beat the Helios 2 heliocentric speed record (measured with respect to the Sun) on 29 October at about 10:54 pm EDT (2:54 UTC, 30 October).

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And it will keep getting closer to the sun until it flies through the corona, or outer atmosphere, for the first time next week, passing within 24 million kilometres of the solar surface.

The Sun-bound mission is expected to last around seven years, during which the probe will orbit the planet Venus to get closer to the Sun.

After that, the space probe will gradually creep closer to the Sun's surface until it reaches its closest possible distance on November 5.

The Parker Solar Probe team measures the spacecraft's speed and position using NASA's Deep Space Network, or DSN.

Tomorrow, the probe will begin the observation phase of its orbit, turning its instruments - protected by a 4.5-inch-thick (11.43 cm) carbon-composite heat shield - towards the Sun. Thanks to this spacecraft, humanity will receive unprecedented observations of its star, opening the door to new answers and understanding of the Sun. It is the first NASA mission to be named after a living individual.

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