NASA solar probe ‘alive and well’ after first encounter with the sun


NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

After coming closer to the sun than any other man-made object in history, the Parker Solar Probe is in good health, NASA reports. High fives all round!

On Wednesday, the probe’s status beacon beamed back an “A” — the best of the four possible status updates — suggesting Parker is operating well. Even if there were any issues, the probe fixed them autonomously, while in space, travelling at hundreds of thousands of miles per hour.

The probe’s perihelion, or the point in orbit where it’s closest to the sun, came on Nov. 5, where it reached a top speed of 213,200 miles per hour — fast enough to get it from New York to Boston in 3.7 seconds. At its current distance of around 15 million miles from the sun’s “surface”, the probe’s cutting-edge heat shield protected it from temperatures reaching 820 degrees Fahrenheit. By the end of the mission, the shield will be exposed to temperatures of 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

Hot.

Parker, now a dual world-record holder, will continue to collect data until Nov. 11, the end of its first “solar encounter phase” which began on Oct. 31.

After the retirement of revolutionary space telescope Keplerthe sad demise of Dawn and the grim outlook for Mars explorer Opportunity, it’s nice to get a wholly positive update from our interplanetary space robots. Parker’s mission will bring it back within 15 million miles of the sun on April 4, 2019 as it continues its seven-year mission to get ever closer to our star.

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