Parker Solar Probe Skims the Sun on its 18th Flyby

The fasted object ever made by humans has completed another milestone. The Parker Solar Probe recently celebrated the new year by completing its 18th flyby of the Sun.

After launching in 2018, Parker has spent the last five years zooming in close to the Sun and then back out again. We’ve reported on its achievements at various points in its journey, such as taking pictures of Venus or finding comets. And it still has almost two years to go on its planned seven-year mission. 

Over those seven years, mission planners have designed 24 perihelion events where the prove passes as closely as possible to the Sun. Each time, the instruments on the probe are taking as much data as possible. Those instruments had better be quick, as the probe is literally the fastest thing ever.

Fraser discusses the Parker Solar Probe.

Or ever made by humans, at least. On its 18th perihelion event at 7:56 PM on December 28th, 2023, Parker matched its previous fastest-ever speed of 635,226 kph (394,736 mph). That doesn’t leave much time for the instruments to collect much data, though the overall solar encounter lasted from December 24th through January 2nd. It passed as close as 7.26 million kilometers (4.51 million miles) from the surface of the Sun on this flyby. That is by far the closest any probe has even gotten to our Sun – intentionally, at least.

There are currently eight more planned solar encounters ahead for the mission, designed to end in December 2025 after its 26th flyby. Later this year, it will also complete its last flyby of Venus to gain even more speed as it travels. 

Data from the 18th flyby isn’t yet available for scientists to pour over, but the spacecraft did check in with a “hello” signal on January 5th, a few days after the planned flyby. Hopefully, that means it’s alive and well and will continue its orbit around the Sun, looking to provide even more insight into the details of heliophysics at an even more significant speed.

Video from the Applied Physics Laboratory describes Parker’s 16th encounter last year.
Credit – John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Learn More:
NASA – NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Completes 18th Close Approach to the Sun
UT – Wow. Parker Solar Probe Took a Picture of the Surface of Venus
UT – Parker Solar Probe Flies Through the Sun’s Outer Atmosphere for the First Time
UT – Parker Solar Probe Captured Images of Venus on its way to the Sun

Lead Image:
Artist’s depiction of the Parker Solar Probe
Credit – NASA