Parker Solar Probe Makes Its First Close Approach to the Sun

On November 5, 2018, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe achieved its first perihelion — its first close approach to the Sun — and flew within 15 million miles (24 million km) of our star’s surface.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. Image credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. Image credit: NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio.

“Parker Solar Probe was designed to take care of itself and its precious payload during this close approach, with no control from us on Earth — and now we know it succeeded,” said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“The spacecraft is the culmination of six decades of scientific progress. Now, we have realized humanity’s first close visit to our star, which will have implications not just here on Earth, but for a deeper understanding of our Universe.”

Mission controllers received the status beacon from Parker Solar Probe at 4:46 p.m. EST on November 7.

“The beacon indicates status ‘A’ — the best of all four possible status signals, meaning that the probe is operating well with all instruments running and collecting science data and, if there were any minor issues, they were resolved autonomously by the spacecraft,” they explained.

During perihelion, the spacecraft reached a top speed of 213,200 mph (343,100 km per hour) relative to the Sun, setting a new record for spacecraft speed.

Parker Solar Probe will repeatedly break its own speed record as its orbit draws closer to the star and the spacecraft travels faster and faster at perihelion.

At this distance, the intense sunlight heated the Sun-facing side of the probe’s heat shield, called the Thermal Protection System, to about 820 degrees Fahrenheit (438 degrees Celsius).

This temperature will climb up to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit (1,370 degrees Celsius) as the spacecraft makes closer approaches to the Sun — but all the while, the spacecraft instruments and systems that are protected by the heat shield are generally kept around 80 degrees Fahrenheit (27 degrees Celsius).

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