A NASA probe has boldly gone where no spacecraft has gone before by flying to within a record distance of the sun.
Less than three months after lift-off, the Parker Solar Probe has managed to get within 15 million miles of the surface of the star.
As far away as that sounds (approximately 600 trips around the world), it is the closest any vessel has ever gotten to the sun.
Its speed hit 213,000 miles per hour as it penetrated the outer solar atmosphere, which made it more than 900 times faster than the top speed ever recorded by a Formula One car.
NASA will not re-establish contact with the probe until it is far enough from the sun to avoid any potential radio interference, but heliophysics division director Nicola Fox said scientists “cannot wait to get the data”.
But the journey is far from over for Parker, which – assuming it survives the harsh conditions – will make 23 even closer approaches to the sun over the next seven years.
The next one is scheduled to happen in April.
NASA is also expecting Parker – which launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida in August – to repeatedly break its own speed records, achieving a top speed of about 430,000 miles per hour in 2024.
It has already become the fastest spacecraft of all-time, besting the speeds recorded by the German-American Helios 2 mission in April 1976.
Meanwhile, in other news from the final frontier, staff at the ALMA Observatory in Chile have used data from the European Southern Observatory to reveal a never-before-seen colossal fountain of molecular gas.
Powered by a black hole in the brightest galaxy of the Abell 2597 cluster some one billion light-years away, it is hoped that the unprecedented observation could shed light on the life cycle of galaxies.