50 years ago, scientists were gearing up to hurl a probe at the sun

Excerpt from the July 6, 1974 issue of Science News

An illustration of the NASA Parker Solar Probe getting close to the sun

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe (upper right in this illustration) is the first spacecraft to have touched the sun’s corona (wavy red grid) and lived to tell the tale.


Putting the heat to HeliosScience News, July 6, 1974
Helios, a space probe scheduled to go closer to the sun than any other manmade object ever launched, has successfully survived a ground test that exposed it to temperatures believed to be as high as any it will face during its mission…. During the test, parts of the spacecraft reached — and survived — temperatures up to 700 degrees F. Helios, to be launched in [December], will pass within 28 million miles of the sun.


The Helios mission’s study of the sun provided key insights into the solar wind, the sun’s magnetic field, galactic rays and more (SN: 12/21/74). Its success helped pave the way for NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, which has been observing our star’s outer atmosphere, or corona, since 2018. Parker has dipped within 5 million miles of the sun’s surface and will eventually swing within 4 million miles. Such encounters have pinpointed a layer that separates the corona from interstellar space and found evidence that snappy magnetic field lines may accelerate the solar wind (SN: 12/15/21; SN: 06/09/23). The probe will next encounter the sun in September.   

Cassie Martin is a deputy managing editor. She has a bachelor's degree in molecular genetics from Michigan State University and a master's degree in science journalism from Boston University.

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