NASA’s solar probe has a guest on its way to the Sun. The Parker Solar Probe was hit by solar dust and debris. According to NASA, the Parker probe will help in a better understanding of the Sun. The probe was launched in 2018. It travels through the atmosphere of the Sun to move closer to the surface. The spacecraft is facing an immense amount of solar radiation conditions. NASA said that the Parker probe is the closest-ever object to be sent to the Sun. Scientists said that they examined the collisions between the Parker and solar dust. They said that as the probe passed through the zodiacal cloud, thousands of tiny dust grains at hypervelocity bombarded the spacecraft. The grains were around 2 to 20 microns in diameter.
The zodiacal cloud is very thick. The dust cloud is like a pancake in shape. It is mainly composed of dust grains that are shed from space rocks. The cloud extends throughout the solar system. The impact of dust grains on the spacecraft made the surface hot. The surface temperature of the spacecraft first vaporized most of the dust grains. It was followed by an ionization process. This leads to plasma explosions lasting for nanoseconds and creating clouds of debris. The debris expands away gradually from the spacecraft. NASA said that the findings can provide new insights into weather around the Sun. The impacts can pose a threat to the spacecraft’s safety and affect its lifespan majorly.
The pictures were taken by Parker’s navigational and scientific cameras. Images show metallic flakes and paint chips knocking loose when hit by solar dust. NASA said that debris also scattered sunlight into the cameras. This prevented the probe temporarily from determining how it was oriented. The Parker probe has completed nine full orbits of the Sun since its launch in 2018. The prime mission will end in 2025. By that time, the spacecraft will complete at least 24 orbits of the Sun. It uses Venus’ gravity during flybys to bring its orbit closer to the Sun. It is currently flying into Corona which is the outermost part of the Sun’s atmosphere. NASA said that the probe will revolutionize the understanding of the solar wind. It will also help in enhancing the ability to forecast changes in Earth’s weather.