The Franklin Institute

Masks are required for unvaccinated and fully vaccinated guests ages 3+. Learn more.

8 Amazing Things You Need to Know About NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

Parker Solar Probe Solar Flare

The Parker Solar Probe promises to be one of the most interesting solar system exploration missions from the United States’ space agency, NASA. As of 2018, NASA and other national space agencies have probes, rovers, landers and satellites exploring extraterrestrial environments the surface of Mars to the polar regions of Jupiter, and the Parker Solar Probe, will join them to explore the atmosphere of the Sun on a nearly seven-year mission that will begin with its launch in August 2018.

1. Parker Solar Probe Will Travel Closer to the Sun Than Ever Before

The Sun is the engine of our Solar System, and, as such, humans have been interested in learning more about it since the dawn of our curiosity, but never has an object been sent so close to our closest star. The Parker Solar Probe, on its closest approach, will pass within 6.2 million kilometers (3.85 million miles) of the Sun into the Sun’s atmosphere, known as the ‘Corona.’

That might seem pretty far, but it will shatter the previous record held by the Helios 2 mission in 1976 at a distance of 43.4 million kilometers (27 million miles).

2. Parker Solar Probe Will Be The Fastest Man Made Object in History

Artist’s impression of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft on approach to the Sun
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

When the Parker Solar Probe is making its closest approach to the Sun, it will be moving at a speed of 700,000 kilometers per hour (430,000 miles per hour) making it the fastest object humans have ever created. According to NASA, at that speed, you could travel from Philadelphia to Washington in about one second.

The current record holder was the Helios 1 mission that hit a top speed of 228,000 kilometers per hour (142,000 miles per hour). Voyager 1, the farthest-traveled man made object, is speeding away from our Solar System at a speed of 62,137 kilometers per hour (38,610 miles per hour).

3. It’s Being Launched Aboard the World’s Second Most Powerful Rocket

Orion Launch from UCS-3

Despite being relatively small in size, the Parker Solar Probe is going to need one of the world’s biggest rockets for it to enter into its orbit around the Sun. NASA will be using the Delta IV Heavy launch system from United Launch Alliance, which, other than the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, is the most powerful rocket on Earth.

4. The Parker Solar Probe Will Be Protected by an Incredible Heat Shield

The Parker Solar Probe spacecraft's Thermal Protection System (TPS)
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

The environment that this spacecraft will encounter as it makes its closest approaches to the Sun will be incredibly hostile. Scientists believe the temperature may reach 1,377 °C (2,511 °F) in the Sun’s corona, but thanks to an innovative heat shield, the scientific equipment housed within the probe should remain a comfortable 29 °C (84 °F).

5. It’s the First NASA Spacecraft to Be Named for a Living Person

Artist rendering of Parker Solar Probe
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

The Parker in Parker Solar Probe honors astrophysicist Eugene Parker who, in the 1950s, was the first to theorize that the Sun emitted a flow of particles and energy we know call the “Solar Wind.”

6. More Than 1 Million Names Are Travelling to the Sun With the Parker Solar Probe

A Parker Solar Probe team member from the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory holds the memory card containing 1,137,202 names submitted by the public to travel to the Sun aboard the spacecraft.
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Ed Whitman

NASA solicited the public to submit their names for inclusion on a small memory drive to travel with the Parker Solar Probe to the Sun and received about 1.1 million responses including “The Franklin Institute” to join the adventure to the center of our Solar System.

7. The Parker Solar Probe Is Designed to Help Us Better Understand the “Space Weather” in Our Solar System

Image shows magnetic fields radiating from the sun's poles.

Whether we want to avoid power outages on Earth or successfully send humans to Mars understanding the dynamic conditions of the Sun our integral in allowing us to better predict and react to the way changing conditions of the Sun affects Earth and the rest of the Solar System.

8. Venus is Will Be Giving Parker Solar Probe Some Help.

Artist rendering of Parker Solar Probe Passing Venus
NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben

The Scientists and Engineers working on Parker Solar Probe plan to use seven flybys of the planet Venus for a gravity assist to shrink the spacecraft’s orbit around the Sun. While the craft is launching in 2018, it will not make its first close approach to the Sun until 2024 after all seven flybys have been completed. Each flyby will decrease the orbital period of the Parker Solar Probe until its traveling around the sun every 88 days.


The Parker Solar Probe is just one of many ways humans are observing and researching the Sun, many space-based and ground-based observatories, including the Joel N. Bloom Observatory at The Franklin Institute where we provide the public with an opportunity to safely view the Sun on most days, are also keeping a close eye on our star so we can better understand how what is happening at the center of the Solar System means for life on Earth and beyond.


Follow The Franklin Institute: @TheFranklin on Twitter.

July 11, 2018, 04:00pm


Doug Ray

As the former Social Media Manager for The Franklin Institute, Doug was responsible for the development and strategy behind social media outreach and a variety of other digital media activities for one of the most visited museums in the United States.