The American space agency is reporting that its Parker Solar Probe now holds the record for the closest approach to the Sun by a human-made object.

NASA officials said the robotic spacecraft passed the old record of nearly 43 million kilometers from the Sun's surface on October 29. Officials said this information comes from the Parker Solar Probe team.

The old record for closest solar approach was set by a German-American spacecraft, called Helios 2, in April 1976.

This image made available by NASA shows an artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. (Steve Gribben/Johns Hopkins APL/NASA via AP)
This image made available by NASA shows an artist's rendering of the Parker Solar Probe approaching the Sun. (Steve Gribben/Johns Hopkins APL/NASA via AP)

The Parker Space Probe is expected to continue setting records as it moves even closer to the Sun. NASA officials say the spacecraft will get as close as 6.16 million kilometers from the surface during one of its visits. They expect that to happen in the year 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," noted Project Manager Andy Driesman. He is with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

The Parker Solar Probe also was expected to set a new record for the fastest spacecraft traveling relative to the Sun. The current record, held by Helios 2, is 246,960 kilometers an hour.

The Parker Solar Probe team is measuring the spacecraft's speed and position using NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN). The network sends a signal to the spacecraft, which then sends a signal back to DSN ground stations in Australia, Spain and the United States.

Space agency officials said the Parker Solar Probe's speed and position were estimated using DSN measurements made on October 24. The team used that information along with known orbital forces to estimate the spacecraft's speed and position from that point on.

The Parker Solar Probe will continue flying closer to the Sun's surface until it reaches its first perihelion — the point closest to the Sun in its orbit — on November 5.

The spacecraft will have to deal with extreme heat and radiation levels as it moves closer to the surface. However, the probe is expected to make observations that will add to scientists' understanding of the Sun.

I'm Jonathan Evans.

George Grow adapted this story from AP and NASA reports. Mario Ritter was the editor.

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Words in This Story

approach – n. a way of dealing with something

manager – n. someone who directs something; a supervisor

network – n. a group of system of interconnected things

(space) probe –n. a device used to get information from outer space and send it back to Earth