NASA's New Solar Space Probe Will Be the Fastest Man-Made Object in History
The Parker Space Probe will hit 430,000 miles per hour as it dives into the sun.
Quick—what's the fastest object ever made by human hands? An intercontinental ballistic missile? A railgun round? An Apollo mission headed to the moon? Nope. Believe it or not, the man-made speed record belongs not to a badass weapon or a feat of human derring-do, but to a class of humble scientific instruments: space probes.
As of now, it's held by NASA's Juno spacecraft, which accelerated up to 90,000 miles per hour as it slingshotted towards Jupiter back in 2013. But Juno's speed record is about to be shattered several times over by a NASA spacecraft—one that's destined for a fiery rendezvous with the star at the heart of our solar system. The Parker Space Probe, set to launch next year, will hit 430,000 miles per hour as it dives towards the sun.
I repeat: NASA's Parker Space Probe will hit 430,000 miles per hour as it dives towards the sun.
That comes from The New York Times, which spoke with NASA about the solar probe as the space agency announced it would be naming the project after astrophysicist Eugene Parker, who first proposed the existence of solar winds back in the 1950s.
The unmanned spacecraft—formerly known as Solar Probe Plus—will reportedly reach its superlative-worthy top speed as it dives to within four million miles of the surface of the sun, after looping through the orbit of Mercury and around Venus to correct its course.
While the speed record may be the biggest headline attraction for us at The Drive, the new spacecraft is worthy of note for other reasons. The Parker will be travel closer to the Sun than any other man-made object ever has during its mission to learn more about the myriad mysteries of the hot ball of nuclear fury that holds the solar system together. Among those unanswered questions it will try to answer: Why the solar corona—the atmosphere that hovers more than a thousand miles above the star's surface—is far hotter than the face of the Sun, a situation that one NASA scientist told the NYT compares to "water flowing uphill" in its lack of logic.
And the Parker Space Probe also marks the first time NASA has named a spacecraft for someone who's still alive. Dr. Parker may be 89 years old, but he's still kicking—serving as the S. Chandrasekhar Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the University of Chicago's Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
“The solar probe is going to a region of space that has never been explored before,” Parker said, according to NASA. “It’s very exciting that we’ll finally get a look. One would like to have some more detailed measurements of what’s going on in the solar wind.
"I’m sure that there will be some surprises," he added. "There always are.”