Neither the most modern supersonic plane nor the fastest car tied to several rockets can be measured with the fastest object ever built by humans: the Parker Solar Probe. His new speed record surpasses the barrier of 600,000 km/h for the first time.
You have to go back to 1976 to find an object faster than the Parker Solar Probe
The new feat of the Parker Solar Probe. NASA’s space probe completed its seventeenth approach to the Sun on September 27. Accelerated by the massive gravitational pull of the star, the ship broke its own speed record until reaching the unusual figure of 635,266 km/h, as confirmed later mission controllers.
The only precedent is the Parker Solar Probe itself, which in a previous approach in November 2021 set the speedometer at 586,863 km/h. In each of these passes the Parker probe accelerates more and more and progressively gets closer to the Sun.
If everything goes well, the probe will break its speed record again in 2024
It is not the main record he broke that day. The probe’s seventeenth approach also broke a distance record: at the closest point to the Sun in its trajectory, known as perihelion, the probe was only 7.26 million kilometers from the solar surface, closer than no other spacecraft has been from the star.
If all goes well, both records will be broken again at the end of 2024, when Parker passes just 6.16 million kilometers from the surface of the Sun. By comparison, the average distance between the Earth and the Sun is 150 million kilometers, But we must also take into account the solar corona , which is the outer part of the star’s atmosphere and can extend several million kilometers into space.
A violent environment of scientific interest. Getting closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft, the Parker Solar Probe is penetrating regions of the solar environment that are of high scientific interest to astronomers and that have never before been explored so closely. The probe has survived several violent events that allowed scientists to understand the structure of the solar wind and previously unknown details of magnetic fields.
Long before the Parker Solar Probe, a German-American collaboration took the Helios 2 probe into space. The speed and approach records for this probe date back to 1976, a respectable 246,960 km/h and 43.4 million kilometers away. Amazingly, they weren’t surpassed until after Parker’s release in August 2018.
Why doesn’t it melt? To avoid certain death, the Parker Solar Probe is equipped with a carbon heat shield capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 1,377 degrees Celsius. The shield is finished in white to reflect some of the solar thermal radiation and keeps safe a wide variety of instruments designed to measure electric and magnetic fields, detect solar particles and take high-resolution images of the Sun and other objects .
In addition to expanding our understanding of the stars, findings from the Parker Solar Probe are contributing to the development of early warning systems for solar storms, a phenomenon that could have a catastrophic impact on our power grids and navigation satellites.