Researchers from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) wanted to understand. Using the Laser Interface Antenna (LISA) Pathfinder or LPF, which operated in orbit between January 2016 and July 2017, the team conducted a study of how often their spacecraft was hit by a spacecraft's dust .
A study published in the Astrophysical Journal in September described 54 collisions with the LPF spacecraft. The mission was essentially a technological demonstration – the equipment included in the LPF should be used in the fully functional LISA Observatory. LPF's primary mission was to demonstrate that the technology on board could be used for a full mission in the future. However, before launch, the researchers realized that the spacecraft's uniquely sensitive spacecraft could be used to detect very small impacts.
This is because every time the LPF is hit, the small boosts help it adjust the course. Examining these small adjustments to the course revealed what hit him and with what force. The researchers had access to 4 488 hours of LPF data to dig the pores and built a comprehensive micrometeroid collision data set with the spacecraft.
Then, by modeling the effects on the LPF, the researchers were able to determine where the micrometeroids originated. Previous studies of cosmic dust in this region of the solar system have shown that much of it comes from short-lived comets such as 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko, whose orbits are controlled by the gas giant Jupiter (comets from the Jupiter family). The "comet crumbs" that faced the LPF aligned with these studies, with the majority of impacts from comets from the Jupiter family and with a smaller contribution from longer-period comets.
ESA will launch LPF evolution in 2034 – – A package of three spacecraft, arranged in a triangle, allowing astronomers to catch gravitational waves with unprecedented accuracy. This will be a huge advantage for astronomers studying extreme cosmological events such as black hole mergers across the universe, but the LPF has shown that next-generation instruments will also be useful for conducting experiments much closer to home.