NASA’s Parker probe passed 41,630 miles (67,000 km) above the surface of the Sun, using the Sun-Earth size ratio. That is, if the Sun were the size of the globe, the probe’s flight altitude would be 41,630 miles (67,000 km). This is below the 62-mile (100 km) Karman line, beyond which space begins.
The probe’s actual altitude above the surface of the Sun was 4.9 million miles (7.26 million km).
Close approach to the Sun and breaking distance records
On September 27, 2023, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe completed its seventeenth close approach to the Sun, marking a significant achievement in its solar approach mission. With each orbit, the probe gradually moved closer to the Sun, gathering data and establishing new landmarks. This marks the last close approach in a sequence of planned maneuvers, with the probe coming within 7.26 million kilometers of the Sun’s surface. This new distance surpasses the previous record set by the probe in June 2023.
The view from Earth: The red line indicates the path of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe across the face of the Sun. Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben/SDO
A few words about Parker Solar Probe
The Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft whose primary purpose is to study the Sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the corona, is operated by NASA. The mission of the probe is to provide valuable data on the behavior of the Sun and its influence on the Solar System. Mission goals include studying the solar wind, the Sun’s magnetic field, and the subtleties of coronal dynamics.
The development and launch of the Parker Solar Probe is a significant milestone in space exploration. The spacecraft was specially designed to withstand the harsh environmental conditions of the Sun, including temperatures exceeding 1,000,000 degrees Celsius. To achieve this, the probe was equipped with a screen consisting of a carbon composite 4.5 inches thick that can withstand temperatures of up to 1,400 degrees Celsius. This shield functions as a barrier between the probe and the sun’s rays, protecting it from overheating and preventing any potential melting. Other high-temperature materials were also used to make various components of the probe, ensuring that all the equipment works correctly even in the extreme temperatures of the Sun. The spacecraft was successfully launched in August 2018, marking the culmination of seven years of planning and development to bring this mission to completion.
As Parker Solar Probe ventures closer to the Sun, it’s crossing into uncharted regimes and making new discoveries. This image represents Parker Solar Probe’s distances from the Sun for some of these milestones and discoveries. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/Mary P. Hrybyk-Keith.
The Parker Solar Probe is equipped with several scientific instruments that allow collecting information about the Sun’s environment. These include the FIELDS instrument, which measures the magnetic and electric fields present in the solar wind, and the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) instrument, which determines the characteristics of solar wind particles. In addition, the Integrated Science Investigation of the Sun instrument suite measures high-energy particles in the Sun’s vicinity. At the same time, the Wide-field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR) captures images of the corona and solar wind. These instruments work in unison to provide a comprehensive understanding of the behavior of the Sun and its impact on the Solar System.