Published: Wed, October 31, 2018
Research | By Jody Lindsey

NASA spacecraft sets record for closest approach to sun

NASA spacecraft sets record for closest approach to sun

The space agency reports that the probe now holds the record for closest approach to the Sun by a human-made object, passing inside the current record of 42.7 million kilometers from the Sun's surface on October 29, 2018, at about 1:04pm ET (17:04 UTC).

Helios 2 also set the heliocentric orbit speed record in 1976, hitting a top speed of 246,960 kilometres per hour (153,454 miles per hour), also in April.

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

The space agency said in a statement on Monday that Parker passed the current record of 26.55 million miles (42.73 million km) from the Sun's surface.

Parker Solar Probe will begin its first solar encounter on October 31, continuing to fly closer and closer to the Sun's surface until it reaches its first perihelion - the point closest to the Sun - at about 10:28 p.m. EST on November 5.

The spaceship is "expected to break the record for fastest spacecraft traveling relative to the Sun on October 29 at about 10:54 pm EDT (Tuesday 0254 GMT)", NASA said.

The Parker Solar Probe is the first NASA aircraft to be named after a living astrophysicist; 91-year-old Eugene Parker, who proposed the notion of solar wind. 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. At perihelion it will be travelling at 95.3 km/s (343,080 km/h; 213,180 mph) around 24.1 million km (14.9 million miles) from the Sun's surface.

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"It's a bit like if you walked away from a campfire and suddenly got much hotter", Fox said.

Each of these assists will see the probe use Venus' gravitational pull to drain some more of its orbital energy.

The previous record was set back in 1976.

The primary objective of the Parker Solar Probe is to study the solar wind.

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.

At the same time, the probe has to withstand huge temperatures of up to 1,377 Celsius (2,500 Fahrenheit).

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