Geminid Meteor Mystery Solved? It’s a collision!

See Earthsky Community photos. | Josh Ashley Amato, Arizona, created a composite image of the Geminid meteors taken on December 14, 2022. Geminid Meteor Mystery Solved?

The Geminid meteor mystery

A NASA blog post On June 14, 2023, Desiree Apodaca at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland described new insights into the annual Geminid meteor shower. She probably wrote:

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

That’s interesting! That’s because most of the meteors in the annual shower — like the Delta Aquarid meteors or the Perseid meteors, which will arrive later this summer — are the result of icy comets orbiting the Sun. So as comets travel through space, they litter their orbits with debris. Thus, we receive annual meteor showers as our planet Earth passes through the stream of comet debris.

But the Geminid meteors — which peak each year in December, to the delight of earthbound stargazers — are different. For decades, we’ve known that Geminids’ parent body is not a fragile, icy comet. Instead, it’s a much more substantial, rocky asteroid: 3200 Python.

Jamie Saleh of Princeton University, one of the authors of the new study, said:

What’s really strange is that we know Python is an asteroid, but when it flies by the Sun, it seems to have some kind of temperature-driven activity. Most asteroids don’t do that.

So, it’s a mystery: How could a rocky asteroid produce a meteor shower?

The Parker Solar Probe provides a clue

Every winter, the Geminid meteors light up the sky as they pass Earth, creating one of the most intense meteor showers in the night sky. Now, a recent task Provides new resources A violent, cataclysmic event created the Geminids.

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The Parker Solar Exploration Reading the Sun, it orbits close to our home star. As it does, it passes through clouds of dust grains from the asteroid Phaeton that blasted the spacecraft. These high-speed impacts create unique electrical signals or plasma clouds. As NASA puts it:

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

Using this Parker Solar Probe data, scientists modeled different formation scenarios for the Geminid meteor stream. What they found was that a violent scenario modeled after the impact of asteroid Python or a sudden burst of gas matched their observations better. Watch the video below to see how the violence model fits the data.

Bottom line: Parker Solar Probe data helped scientists determine that the Geminid meteor shower was most likely the result of a violent event on the asteroid Python.

Source: Formation, structure and detection of the Geminids meteor stream

Via NASA

Also Read: 2023 Geminid Meteor Shower: Everything You Need To Know

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