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Sci-Tech

NASA solar probe sets two wild space records on way to sun

The Parker Solar Probe is going where no spacecraft has gone before. And it's going there fast.

This illustration shows the probe nearing the sun.

NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

NASA has poetically described the Parker Solar Probe as a mission to "touch the sun." It launched in August, flew past Venus in early October and has now claimed two incredible space records just months into a seven-year journey.

Parker set its first record on Monday by becoming the closest spacecraft to the sun when it broke the previous record of 26.55 million miles (42.7 million kilometers) from the sun's surface set by the Helios 2 spacecraft in 1976.

The probe is also traveling incredibly fast. Late Monday, it passed the speed mark of 153,454 mph (247,000 km/h). NASA declared it "the fastest-ever human-made object relative to the Sun." Again, it broke a record set by Helios 2.

The spacecraft isn't anywhere close to done setting records. By 2024, it should be up to a mind-boggling 430,000 mph (692,000 km/h). It will also get much, much closer to the sun thanks to a high-tech heat shield designed to protect it from our star's intense temperatures.

Parker is set to study the solar corona and solar wind so we can learn more about space weather and how it impacts Earth. Solar storms can affect communications and power systems on our planet.

NASA expects Parker to achieve its first close approach to the sun on Nov. 5. 

"The spacecraft will face brutal heat and radiation conditions while providing humanity with unprecedentedly close-up observations of a star and helping us understand phenomena that have puzzled scientists for decades," NASA says.