Shooting star display in 2013 in Morocco (c) IMCCE

The facts & the project

At the heart of the frozen core of a comet there are billions of tiny “cometary” dust particles. When this core heats up, as the comet passes near the Sun, these dust particles are ejected and form, in its wake, huge, relatively narrow (several million kilometres) clouds that are enormously long, measured in the hundreds of millions of kilometres.

The task of tracing the formation, trajectory and evolution of these clouds - also known as meteor swarms - is that of Jérémie Vaubaillon, researcher at the IMCCE (Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calcul des Ephémérides).

Identifying the trajectory of these swarms can be of critical importance, in particular for protecting satellites orbiting the Earth or exploring Mars that could be damaged as a result of the collisions with this cometary dust particles at speeds of between 11 and 71 km/h. Or simply marvelling at a shooting star display, an indication that the Earth is passing through a meteor shower.

The results

Only numerical simulation can calculate the trajectory of a meteor swarm, from a representative sample, here of 30,000 cometary particles in three size ranges, from hundreds of microns to a centimetre, and its evolution over at least 200 years.

The number of parameters involved makes it necessary to call on the resources of GENCI, in this case 32,000 hours on Jade in 2014 and 200,000 hours on Occigen in 2015 at Cines. After the more “famous” comets such as Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Jérémie Vaubaillon is looking at less well known but just as important objects… Which can only be understood through computational analysis.