In August of last year, NASA sent a spacecraft hurtling toward the inner Solar System, with the aim of getting some answers about the mysterious star at the center of our cosmic neighborhood. Now more than a year later, that tiny robot has started to decode some of the mysteries surrounding our Sun’s behavior, after venturing closer to our parent star than any human-made object has before. From a report: That spacecraft is NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, a car-sized vehicle designed to withstand temperatures of more then 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Its various instruments are protected by an extra hardy heat shield, designed to keep the spacecraft relatively cool as it gets near our balmy host star. Already, the Parker Solar Probe has gotten up close and personal with the Sun, coming within 15 million miles of the star — closer than Mercury and any other spacecraft sent to the Sun before. “We got into the record books already,” Adam Szabo, the mission scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for Parker Solar Probe, tells The Verge.

Before the spacecraft’s launch, researchers were particularly interested in learning more about what’s coming out of the Sun. Energetic particles and plasma are continuously streaming from the Sun at all times — a phenomena that’s been dubbed solar wind. This highly energized material makes its way to Earth, causing the dazzling display of the aurora borealis. If we get too much of this stuff, it can sometimes muck up our spacecraft in orbit and even mess with our electric grid. There’s still a lot we don’t know about solar wind, such as what is accelerating this material so much that it can break free from the Sun. Learning the origins of the wind could help us better predict how it will impact us here on Earth.

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