How Close Can a Space Probe Get to the Sun?

In Greek mythology, Icarus flew too close to the Sun, and his wax-and-feather wings melted. Too bad he didn't have 4.5-inch-thick carbon-composite solar shields.

In April 2021, the Parker Solar Probe became the first manmade object to reach the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere.
In April 2021, the Parker Solar Probe became the first manmade object to reach the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere.

Last month, NASA announced that its Parker Solar Probe had become the first manmade object to "touch the Sun," back in April 2021. The probe took three years to make it into the Sun's outer atmosphere, or corona, where it wove in and out for several hours. Hard as it is to believe, the corona is much hotter than the Sun's surface. The corona is 1,800,000 degrees F (999,982 °C) compared with the average surface temperature of 10,340 degrees F (5,727 ° C), and part of the probe's goal is to figure out why.

"Not only does this milestone provide us with deeper insights into our Sun's evolution and (its) impacts on our solar system, but everything we learn about our own star also teaches us more about stars in the rest of the universe," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. At one point in 2024, the probe is expected to get within 3.9 million miles (6.2 million km) of the Sun's surface, which is closer than Mercury, the nearest planet.

Shedding some light on the Sun:

  • Although the Sun is nowhere near as big as some stars, it would take one million Earths to fill the same space.

  • The sun will live about 10 billion years, meaning it has about 5 billion years left.

  • Of all the mass in the solar system, 99.8 percent is taken up by the Sun, leaving only .2 percent for all the planets and other objects.

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    • In April 2021, the Parker Solar Probe became the first manmade object to reach the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere.
      In April 2021, the Parker Solar Probe became the first manmade object to reach the Sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere.