Parker Solar Probe will return to the sun today

The Parker solar probe traverses the outermost layers of the sun today at 213,000 miles per hour, enduring incredible temperatures that could fry most other spacecraft. The probe will come 15 million miles from the sun, reaching perihelion, its closest point, at 6:40 pm ET. But it is so close, even now, that it has not been able to send data to Earth since March 30. The probe must keep its protective equipment pointing directly at the sun, leaving no room to maneuver to point an antenna towards the Earth.

The probe has flown so close once before, so it is tying its own record in this approach. The holder of the previous record was the Helios 2 mission at 27 million miles, or almost twice the distance. But at the end of its mission in 2025, the Solar Parker Probe will end up skimming the sun, just 3.83 million miles from its surface, within the outer corona layer of the sun.

Touching the sun

Even though the sun is the closest star, and which is under almost constant observation, there are still many open questions about how the sun works. Scientists do not understand how the solar wind accelerates the particles as it does, or why the sun's corona is much hotter than its surface despite being further away. By flying through the corona at temperatures near 2500 degrees F, the researchers hope that Parker's solar probe can offer answers to some of these questions.

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