NASA has confirmed that its Parker Solar Probe is now closer to the sun than any spacecraft has ever been. It has beaten the record of 26.6 million miles set by Helios-2 in 1976. The probe will keep getting closer to the sun until it flies through the corona, or outer atmosphere, for the first time next week, passing within 15 million miles of the solar surface. Over the next seven years, it will make 24 close approaches to the sun, ultimately coming within just 3.8 million miles of the surface.
The Parker Solar Probe is the first NASA spacecraft to be named after someone still alive. Eugene Parker, a 91-year-old astrophysicist, proposed the existence of solar wind – a steady, supersonic stream of particles blasting off the sun. He was at the launch of the probe in August. The mission to get this close to the sun has been on NASA’s books since 1958.