NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, the 2018 PopSci’s Best of What’s New awardee, keeps surpassing its own records. As of its recent update, it’s now the fastest human-made object ever, soaring at a breathtaking 394,736 mph.
This recent speed record came into effect on September 27, during the middle of the probe’s 17th “solar encounter”, which took place until October 3. This velocity surge was boosted by a gravity-assist flyby from Venus.
To give a perspective on its speed, if an airplane moved at this pace, it could circle the Earth approximately 15 times in just an hour or travel between New York City and Los Angeles in a mere 20 seconds. Though no human could withstand such speeds, the sheer numbers are astounding.
Moreover, the Parker Solar Probe has come closer to the sun than any prior mission, reaching a distance of only 4.51 million miles from the sun’s plasma surface on its latest approach.
Withstanding temperatures close to 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, the probe’s 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite shield ensures its delicate instruments remain intact.
These instruments are crucial, capturing details of the sun’s surface and aiding in understanding the solar winds’ evolution, origins, and potential impact on Earth.
Recently, the probe navigated through one of the most powerful coronal mass ejections (CMEs) ever recorded. This journey provided evidence supporting a long-standing theory that CMEs interact with interplanetary dust, enhancing our abilities to predict space weather.
The probe’s resilience is noteworthy. Despite its proximity to the sun and its unprecedented speeds, NASA confirms that the Parker Solar Probe remains in optimal condition.
While it has already set multiple records, its mission is far from over. Seven more solar approaches are planned until 2024, suggesting that more records and breakthroughs are on the horizon.