A NASA probe has “touched” the sun, making it the first human-made object ever to perform such a feat.
The space agency described the achievement as “one major step” for its probe and “one giant leap for solar science.”
The Parker Solar Probe passed in and out of the sun’s upper atmosphere — called the corona — several times during a flyby in April, with NASA needing the intervening months to receive and confirm the data. The pass took the spacecraft to within eight million miles of the center of the sun as it flew inside the corona.
The agency said that information gathered from Parker’s eighth and closest pass yet should help scientists to learn more about our closest star and its influence on the solar system.
The ambitious mission could also help us to find out more about the “solar wind,” a term coined decades ago by American astrophysicist Eugene Parker, whom NASA’s probe is named after. The solar wind is a high-speed flow of particles from the sun that sometimes disrupts satellites and even ground-based technology. On the plus side, they also create the breathtaking auroras that dance across the night sky.
The probe, which features a specially designed heat shield for protection against the sun’s extreme temperatures and radiation, launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in 2018. During one of its early approaches, the spacecraft reached speeds of 213,200 mph (about 343,000 kph), though during its final flyby in 2025, it’s expected to hit speeds of 430,000 mph (about 692,000 kph).
The video below offers more insight into the Parker Solar Probe’s recent achievement and also includes incredible footage shot by the spacecraft as it flew through the corona.
“Parker Solar Probe ‘touching the sun’ is a monumental moment for solar science and a truly remarkable feat,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Not only does this milestone provide us with deeper insights into our sun’s evolution and its impacts on our solar system, but everything we learn about our own star also teaches us more about stars in the rest of the universe.”
Joseph Smith, a Parker program executive at NASA, added: “We look forward to seeing what else the mission discovers as it ventures even closer in the coming years.”
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