Parker Solar Probe clocks 330,000 mph as the fastest object ever made
Launched in 2018 on a mission to study the Sun from close proximity, NASA's Parker Solar Probe continues to edge closer and closer to its target, setting one new record after another. The latest came during a close approach today, where the spacecraft exceeded blistering speeds of 330,000 mph (532,000 km/h) as it began its eighth loop of the Sun.
The car-sized Parker Solar Probe is built to travel closer to the Sun than any spacecraft in history, using a carbon composite heat shield to fend off the star's energy and remain cool in temperatures of nearly 2,500 °F (1,377 °C). The probe will use a suite of onboard instruments to study high-energy solar particles in the Sun's atmosphere to better understand the origin of solar winds, which emanate from our star outwards through the solar system.
To help it on its way, the spacecraft is using a series of flybys of Venus to leverage the planet's gravity and propel itself towards the Sun, with the fourth and most recent flyby coming in February. This set the Parker Solar Probe up for its eighth lap of the Sun, and one that would take it closer and to higher speeds than any object ever created by humankind.
The approach took the probe to within 6.5 million miles (10.4 million km) of the Sun's surface. This, too marks another record, besting the Parker Solar Probe's approach of 8.4 million miles (13.5 million kilometers) on January 17. In reaching 330,000 mph, the probe traveled significantly faster than its previous record, of 289,932 mph (466,600 km/h), also set on January 17.
As it moved into this uncharted territory this week, the Parker Solar Probe used its suite of instruments, which includes tools for analyzing magnetic fields, high energy particles and imaging, to gather information on the solar environment and solar winds, with this data collection to continue through to May 4.
The probe is set to complete 24 loops of the Sun in all, which means it is now a third of the way through its mission. Scientists hope that the mission can help us better understand solar winds, which can have destructive effects on GPS, satellites and electrical grids, and possibly even help us understand what gave rise to life on our planet. The spacecraft will make its final lap of the Sun in 2024.