Nasa’s Parker Solar Probe has broken its own record. Achieving a speed of 635,266 kilometres (394,736 miles) per hour, it’s now the fastest thing to be built by humans. On 27 September, during its 17th loop around the sun, it broke its 2021 record of 586,000 kilometres (364,621 miles) per hour achieved during its 10th solar flyby.
Along with record speed, it's also achieved record proximity to the Sun – 7.26 million kilometres above the radiant ocean of plasma, which is thought of as the star's surface, a Science Direct report said.
The Parker Solar Probe was launched in 2018 to collect data about the outer corona, the outermost layer of the Sun. The corona is hotter than the layer immediately below it. The reason for this coronal heating has been an unsolved puzzle for scientists.
By 2025, the probe is scheduled to complete 24 loops around the sun. At its closest approach, the spacecraft will come within about 3.8 million miles of the Sun. “If the distance between Earth and the Sun was the length of a football field, the spacecraft would be around 4 yards from the end zone,” Nasa explains in a press statement.
The Parker Solar Probe’s observations will be directly from inside the corona, helping scientists understand the Sun’s atmosphere. It will provide close observations of the solar wind, which is “the constant outflow of solar material hurled from the Sun at a million miles per hour,” as defined by Nasa. The probe will also collect data on how solar eruptions boost particles into energies that can be dangerous for astronauts and technology in space.
To withstand extreme conditions, the probe is equipped with a 4.5-inch-thick (11.43 centimetres) carbon-composite shield that keeps its scientific payload at room temperature, a Space.com article said. Other important instruments include a solar array cooling system and on-board fault management systems.
“The Sun’s energy is always flowing past our world,” Nicky Fox, Parker Solar Probe’s project scientist said in Nasa’s press statement about its launch in 2018. “And even though the solar wind is invisible, we can see it encircling the poles as the aurora, which are beautiful—but reveal the enormous amount of energy and particles that cascade into our atmosphere. We don’t have a strong understanding of the mechanisms that drive that wind toward us, and that’s what we’re heading out to discover.”