NRL-camera on board NASA Parker Solar Probes pacecraft confirms asteroid phenomenon

US Naval Research Laboratory has announced that one of its cameras, mounted on the NASA Parker Solar Probe, revealed an asteroid dust trail that has eluded astronomers for decades, the agency said.

An image from the Wide-Field Imager for Solar Probe (WISPR), a US Naval Research Laboratory-built camera, displays the dust trail of asteroid 3200 Phaethon near the Sun. The trail is visible for the first time in the region where the white dots are omitted. 3200 Phaethon´s orbit intersects Earth´s orbit every year, and results in the Geminid Meteor shower.

NRL´s heliospheric imagers are ground-breaking because they allow a person to see near-Sun outflows massively fainter than the Sun itself, which would otherwise blind the cameras. And in this case, a person can also see solar system objects extremely close to the Sun, which most telescopes cannot do.

The data captured by WISPR determined the asteroid dust trail weighs an estimated billion tons, and measures more than 14 million miles long. The findings raise questions about the trail´s origin.

Understanding how the solar environment behaves is important to the Navy and Marine Corps because when the solar winds reach Earth, they can affect GPS, spacecraft operations, and ground-based power grids.

NRL is a scientific and engineering command dedicated to research that drives innovative advances for the Navy and Marine Corps from the seafloor to space and in the information domain. NRL headquarters is located in Washington, DC, with major field sites in Stennis Space Center, Mississippi, Key West, Florida, and Monterey, California, and employs approximately 2,500 civilian scientists, engineers and support personnel.