Parker Solar Probe Hurtles Past the Sun, Making its Closest Approach so far

We’ve covered plenty of the Parker Solar Probe’s exploits here at UT, but it keeps breaking new records almost every month.  Now, with its newest flyby, it has gotten closer to the Sun than ever before, breaking its own record from previous flybys. 

Parker’s latest closest pass took place on Sunday, November 21st, as part of its 10th circuit of the Sun.  Passing just 5.3 million miles from the solar surface, Parker is only about 5% of the Earth’s distance to the Sun.  Such close flybys require the spacecraft to be vigilant with its sun shield. Any direct exposure to the full for of the Sun at that distance would cook the probe’s internals.  

Video showing the orbital trajectory of Parker.
Credit – SciNews YouTube Channel

That’s not the only problem Parker has to contend with.  We previously reported how even small grains of dust in the inner solar system could become dangerous projectiles when the probe slams into them, going a blazing 586,864 kph (364,600 mph), or 163 kilometers per second (101 miles per second).  

Dust grains will continue to be a problem as the probe picks up even more speed after its completed 10th “solar encounter,” which ended on November 26th. Its next milestone is another Apehelion for its next cycle scheduled for January 8th.  In the meantime, Parker will begin transmitting its latest data haul on December 23rd, so scientists will still have to wait a bit before they can start searching for any new discoveries.  That data dump will make for an excellent holiday present for solar physicists everywhere.

Learn More:
NASA – Parker Solar Probe Completes a Record-Setting Swing by the Sun
NASA/JHUAPL – Parker Solar Probe – NASA’s Parker Solar Probe swings through Venus ‘tail’ in flyby today

Lead Image:
Orbital pattern that Parker is taking.
Credit – NASA / John Hopkins APL