Small grains, massive damage: collision of dust at high speed with spacecraft produces plasma explosions

The team also used the optical cameras aboard Parker to observe how metallic flakes and paint were shattered while colliding with dust particles and fell near the probe. Those pieces of debris left streaks in images taken by the solar probe’s scientific and navigational cameras.

“Many of those streaks in the images look star-shaped, and they form near the heat shield,” said APL co-author Kaushik Iyer, referring to the large shield that protects the Parker Solar Probe from Earth’s intense heat. the sun.

The study also notes that some debris reflected sunlight onto the probe’s navigation cameras, causing the probe to temporarily be unable to determine its correct position in space. That could be dangerous for a spacecraft that depends on precisely targeting its heat shield to survive.

Parker Solar Probe was launched in August 2018 and has now completed 9 full orbits around the Sun. Before its mission ends in 2025, it will orbit the Sun 15 more times. And as the probe continues its exploration closer to the sun, it could add another record to its roster: the record for most spacecraft exploding with sand.

The results of the study will be presented November 11 at the 63rd annual meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Plasma Physics in Pittsburgh. This article is based on a press release from the American Physical Society.

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Winton Frazier

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