Once there was an asteroid that went too close to the Sun. But because it was rocky, small compared to the Sun too delicate to withstand the Sun’s heat broken down very long back. When broke the asteroid released a large amount of dust, and other debris into space while moving along its path. This asteroid is none other than Phaethon. The name was given after the Sun’s child who couldn’t handle his father’s chariot which nearly tore the whole world.
Every year in December we the people of Earth can witness a meteor shower called the Gemenid meteor shower. This meteor shower is none other than the Phaethon asteroid which got broke due to the Sun’s scorching weather conditions. We also call this meteor shower as shooting stars.
Scientists tried in almost every possible way to find the trail of Phaethon. But could not until a NASA spacecraft studying the Sun stumbles upon it.
Parker Solar Probe which was lifted in 2018 to study about the Sun and solve the mystery of how our star could generate so much energy. The spacecraft dives closer to the Sun to study the magnetic fields, Solar atmosphere, and other parameters.
Parker when completing its third revolution around the Sun just hit a thin trail of dust just to the left of Milky Way Galaxy.
Karl Battams, an astrophysicist compared the trail of Phaethon and the dust particles that hit the Solar probe in November. For his anticipation, it was a perfect match with the path of Phaethon.
The part captured by the Solar probe is very large. It is 60,000 miles across and 12 million miles long. It has a span of 524 days around the Sun. Some astronomers refer to it as “rock comet” as it emits large amounts of dust instead of gas.
The Hubble Space Telescope was used a large number of times to capture Phaethon’s trail. But because of the nearness of Phaethon to the Sun and due to the light which did not allow us to take pictures until the Solar probe went far.
“We have seen something in the data that no one has ever seen before. The Solar probe gave answers we never asked till now”, said Battams. Parker Solar probe if possible will now travel along with Phaethon to study it.
Parker Solar probe has been designed to complete at least 21 revolutions more to capture Phaethon’s dust. If this is a hit then NASA will have 21 chances to capture Phaethon and study the rock dust.
The study of this asteroid may give us additional details on all other rocky bodies.