Parker Solar Probe Completes Its Second Flyby of the Sun
The NASA Parker Solar Probe has made another full orbit and close approach to the sun, the second accomplishment in what is planned to be a series of two dozen flights through the solar atmosphere. November 25, 2018 marked its inaugural close pass of the sun, thus bestowing the honorable achievement of closest solar flyby to the probe.
The historic event was mirrored in the second close approach which saw its pinnacle (referred to as the perihelion) on April 4, 2019. It zipped through the sun’s atmosphere, reaching a stunning 213,200 mph; this encounter phase of the mission was completed by April 10. Two down. Only 22 left to go. By 2025, the probe is expected to be coming within a distance of 9.86 solar radii of the star’s very core.
During the flyby, the Parker Solar Probe let out an “A” beacon, a procedure meant to relay the message that the probe has remained quite functional. Regardless of the immensely high temperatures the spacecraft is being confronted with, the probe has managed to cope with the conditions it’s been exposed to.
It continues to collect data, the real reason the NASA probe was put into orbit in the first place. With the information that is to be gathered, scientists hope to gain an elevated understanding of our sun’s makeup, the energy generating solar winds, and other aspects related to the star.
Nickalaus Pinkine serves as the probe’s mission operations manager at the John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory based in Laurel, Maryland. It “is performing as designed, and it was great to be able to track it during this entire perihelion,” Pinkine says. “We’re looking forward to getting the science data down from this encounter in the coming weeks so the science teams can continue to explore the mysteries of the corona and the Sun.”
The Parker Solar Probe is able to pass in such close proximity to the sun because of its movable heat shield. Like a sunflower rotating to follow the sunlight, so the probe’s heat shield, directed by specific software, is regularly repositioning itself in accord with the location of the sun in order to keep the spacecraft safe.
The Parker Solar Probe’s third perihelion is expected to occur on September 1, 2019.
- Related article: “Star Trek, the Sun, and the Parker Solar Probe.”