The article, published in The Planetary Science Journal, uses data from Parker Solar Probe sensors to take a closer look at an interplanetary dust cloud.
When interplanetary dust particles collide with Earth's atmosphere, we see meteors - microscopic fragments evaporate and leave glowing trails in the air. But if they run into astronauts, they can punch holes in their spacesuits or do something worse. You need to understand where this dust comes from.
The Parker Solar Probe spacecraft has been able to get closer to the Sun than any other vehicle in the history of space flight. Every day it is bombarded with dust particles. Fortunately, it is ready for this - upon collision with its body, dust particles evaporate and release a cloud of electrically charged particles that can be detected by its onboard set of sensors.
Using data from the Parker Solar Probe, as well as computer simulations of the movement of particles in the inner part of the solar system, scientists have identified two different populations of dust in the interplanetary cloud: dust masses slowly approaching the Sun (alpha meteoroids) and larger particles (beta meteoroids), which are crushed in collisions and subsequently repelled from the Sun by the pressure of sunlight. When the shard becomes small enough, the radiation pressure of sunlight becomes strong enough to carry it outside the solar system.
Such "carried away" particles have been repeatedly recorded by spacecraft located between the Earth and Mars, but they have never been found between the Earth and the Sun before. Parker Solar Probes allow you to see them, shall we say, right at the source. However, these populations are not as important as the third discovery of the Parker Solar Probe - narrow streams of particles were also discovered, the sources of which are potentially comets and asteroids.
Comets are dust-filled snowballs traveling through our solar system in long elliptical orbits. Along the way, they throw out a large amount of dust, approaching the Sun. And asteroids emit dust when they collide with each other - they are simply stones orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. Most of the debris gets stuck in the orbit of the parent body. If the Earth crosses this orbit anywhere, we get a meteor shower - of course, any other cosmic body that has passed through these fragments will also be affected.
Mutual collisions of particles are important not only for studying our solar system, but also for understanding processes outside it. This article gives the scientific community a glimpse into a previously unexplored area near the Sun.