NASA’s Parker Solar Probe has successfully completed its second close approach to the Sun.
At 6:40 p.m. EST on April 4, the spacecraft—traveling at 213,200 mph—passed within 15 million miles of our star, tying its own distance record as the closest-ever ship to the Sun.
The mission team at John’s Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., kept a close eye on the spacecraft via the Deep Space Network: They were tuned in for four hours before, during, and after approach, monitoring the probe’s health during the critical moments.
“The spacecraft is performing as designed, and it was great to be able to track it during this entire perihelion,” Nickalaus Pinkine, Parker Solar Probe mission operations manager at APL, said in a statement.
“We’re looking forward to getting the science data down from this encounter in the coming weeks,” he continued, “so the science teams can continue to explore the mysteries of the corona and the Sun.”
Parker Solar Probe’s 11-day encounter began at the end of March and is scheduled to conclude this week. The solar encounter phase, according to NASA, is roughly defined as when the spacecraft is within 0.25 AU—23,250,000 miles—of the Sun.
One AU, or astronomical unit, is about 93 million miles—the average distance from the Sun to Earth.
The probe, named after physicist Eugene Parker, launched on Aug. 12; it features a memory card containing photos of Parker and a copy of his 1958 scientific paper predicting important aspects of solar physics.
In October, the spacecraft passed within 26.55 million miles of the Sun’s surface, beating the previous achievement set by the German-American Helios 2 in April 1976.
Expect a lot more broken records as the Parker Solar Probe mission continues, prepared to make a final close approach of 3.83 million miles from the Sun’s surface in 2024.
It won’t be easy, though: The spacecraft will face what NASA described as “brutal” heat and radiation conditions.
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