NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has been orbiting the Sun since its launch on August 12, 2018 from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.
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Now records have been broken for the fastest man-made object and the closest distance a spacecraft has come to the Sun. On November 21, 2021, the probe reached speeds of 364,660 miles per hour (586,864 kilometers per hour), breaking its previous record of 330,000 miles per hour (531,083 kilometers per hour) on April 29, 2021.
On both occasions, the probe was at the perihelion, the point where it comes closest to the Sun along its orbit. The most recent close approach is part of the probe’s tenth orbit, and it reached the perihelion at. 4:25 AM EST (8:25 UTC). The distance from the solar surface at this time was 5.3 million miles (8.5 million kilometers), breaking the record for the closest a spacecraft has come to the Sun.
The previous record was 6.5 million miles (10.4 million kilometers) from the Sun. That record was also set by the Parker Solar Probe on the same occasion that it set, breaking the record for the fastest speed a man-made object has traveled. The perihelion marked the midpoint of the probe’s tenth solar encounter, which began on November 16 and will continue through November 26.
The probe entered the close encounter with the Sun in good condition and is due to check in again with mission operators at the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory on November 24. The probe will transmit scientific data from the meeting, including the properties and structure of the solar wind and the dust environment near the Sun, over approximately two weeks, spanning December 23, 2021 and January 9, 2022.
The Parker Solar Probe broke the records set on April 29, 2021, which broke the same records set by the probe in February 2020. At that time, it set the speed record of 244,255 miles per hour (393,044 kilometers per hour) and the distance record at 11 , 6 million miles (18.6 million kilometers). The probe will move closer to the Sun for each orbit, so expect it to continue to break both distance and speed records as it is thrown away at ever higher speeds.