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NASA Solar Probe Pulls Off Closest Ever Approach To Sun By Man-Made Object

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An artist's sketch of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the sun. On Monday, NASA announced that the Parker Solar Probe broke the record for becoming the first man-made object to make its nearest approach to the sun. It broke the record set by the Helios 2 probe in 1976.   ( NASA )

The NASA Parker Solar Probe made the closest ever approach of a man-made spacecraft to the sun on Monday, Oct. 29.

Closest Approach To The Sun

The spacecraft has beaten the previous record set by the German-American Helios 2 that made its approach in April 1976. The Parker Solar probe flew 26.55 million miles away from the surface of the star on Monday afternoon EDT. The Parker Solar Probe will repeatedly set and break its own record before making a final close approach of about 3.83 million miles away from the surface of the sun in 2024.

"It's been just 78 days since Parker Solar Probe launched, and we've now come closer to our star than any other spacecraft in history," stated Andy Driesman, the project manager behind the Parker Solar Probe.

The spacecraft lifted off from Earth on Aug. 12 earlier this year. Its mission is to learn everything it can about the center of the solar system, the sun.

In September, it took a snap of Earth as it sped toward Venus for its first gravity assist. From its position in space, it can see home as a bright dot among countless stars.

The Parker Solar Probe also became the fastest spacecraft to travel relative to the sun, another record that Helios 2 previously set. The Probe measures its own speed and position, the Deep Space Network or DSN then retrieves that data before sending it to NASA ground control.

Facing The Heat

The Parker Solar Probe will continue to fly nearer to the surface of the sun, facing intense heat and radiation to deliver new information. It is equipped with a special carbon-composite shield that could protect it from the brutal environment and several instruments to measure structure and activity.

It is scheduled to reach its first perihelion on Nov. 5 at 10 p.m. EST. The spacecraft will have 24 close encounters over the next seven years.

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