June 13, 2024

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Geminid meteorite mystery solved? It was a collision!

View in EarthSky community photos. | Josh Ashley This composite image of the Geminid meteorites was taken in Amado, Arizona on December 14, 2022. Is the mystery of the Geminid meteorite solved?

The mystery of the Geminid meteorite

in NASA blog post On June 14, 2023, Desiree Apodaca at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland described new insights into annual Geminid meteor showers. I wrote that it might:

…a sudden, powerful event—such as a high-velocity collision with another object or a gas explosion, among other possibilities—created the Geminid stream.

And that’s interesting! That’s because most meteors in annual showers — such as the Delta Aquarid meteors or Perseid meteors, which appear later this summer — are the result of icy comets orbiting the sun. So when comets move through space, they litter their orbits with debris. Thus, we get annual meteor showers when our planet Earth passes through a stream of comet debris.

But the Geminid meteors — which peak every year in December, to the delight of stargazers on Earth — are different. For several decades, we’ve known that the Geminids’ parent body isn’t a brittle, icy comet. Instead, it’s a more substantial rocky asteroid: 3200 Phaethon.

Jamie Szalay From Princeton University, one of the authors of a new study, He said:

What’s really strange is that we know that Phaethon is an asteroid, but because it’s flying so close to the sun it seems to have some kind of activity driven by temperature. Most asteroids do not.

So, it was a mystery: How could a rocky asteroid spawn a meteor shower?

The Parker Solar Probe provides evidence of this

Every winter, Geminid meteors light up the sky as they race across the Earth, resulting in one of the most powerful meteor showers in the night sky. Now, the last task Submit new evidence that a cataclysmic violent event led to the creation of Gemini.

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the Parker Solar Probe It studies the sun and its orbit near our star. As it does, it passes through clouds of dust grains from the asteroid Phaethon that is flinging the spacecraft. And these high-speed effects create unique electrical signals, or plasma clouds. As NASA said:

These impact clouds produce unique electrical signals that are picked up by several sensors on the probe’s FIELDS instrument. The FIELDS instrument measures electric and magnetic fields near the Sun.

Using this Parker Solar Probe data, scientists have modeled different formation scenarios for the Geminid meteor stream. What they found was that a violent scenario, modeled as a collision with an asteroid Phaethon or a sudden gas explosion, matched their observations best. Watch the video below to see how the aggressive model fits the data better.

Bottom line: Data from the Parker Solar Probe helped scientists discover that the Geminid meteor shower is most likely the result of a violent event on the asteroid Phaethon.

Source: Formation, structure, and detectability of the Geminids meteorite stream

via NASA

Read more: 2023 Geminid meteor shower: Everything you need to know