Researchers Found New Dust Rings in the Inner Solar System

Researchers Found New Dust Rings in the Inner Solar System

Researchers Found New Dust Rings in the Inner Solar System
Image Credits: We Are The Mighty

Scientists found some new dust rings including the one near the Sun.

Following the rapid advancement of technology, discovering new things in space has become quite frequent, nowadays. Astronomers keep finding new stars, planets, galaxies and other celestial objects. Having said that, most of these discoveries are made outside our solar system. This is the reason why scientists get a bit more excited about finding something new in our inner solar system. The latest discovery of new dust rings is no different. Mark Kuchner, an Astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center of NASA, acknowledged the fact by saying,

“It’s not every day you get to discover something new in the inner solar system. I think the most exciting thing about this result is it suggests a new population of asteroids that probably holds clues to how the solar system formed.”

Dust in space

The annoyance of dust is not limited to our planet and is found in all parts of space. In fact, the dust has been present ever since the Big Bang. In the past, the universe used to be a more chaotic place with the rapid formation of stars and other bodies. As a result, there was a lot of gas and dust around. These dust particles slowly combined to form the rocky bodies which we call planets. Asteroid collision is another common cause for forming dust. It is a popular belief that the dust started moving towards the center of the galaxy, drawn in by the powerful gravity of the Sun.

The Discovery

According to recent scientific papers, researchers found a number of new dust rings in the Milky Way. For instance, there is a dust ring around the Sun (near Mercury’s orbit). Similarly, there is another dust ring around Venus. Studies have shown the sources of these dust rings to be asteroids that orbit the planets. Despite these findings, the process of locating the dust is slightly trickier than expected because the space around Sun seems dustier than it actually is when viewed from Earth. For the sake of making better observations, scientists used a new technique that involves separating the light from the Sun and the light reflected off dust particles. Light reflected off the dust particles is about 100 times brighter which makes direct observations rather difficult.

The recent images were taken STEREO (Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory), a NASA mission which uses a pair of identical satellites that were launched in 2006 to orbit the Sun and to observe its light. Both of these satellites are almost always on the opposite sides of the Sun, hence providing a ‘stereo’ image of the star.

Dust Ring of Mercury

Guillermo Stenborg, a Scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, explained that the discovery of a dust ring around Mercury is incredibly surprising, to say the least. He mentioned that people thought that Mercury, unlike Earth or Venus, is too small and too close to the Sun to capture a dust ring. They expected that the solar wind and magnetic forces from the Sun would blow any excess dust at Mercury’s orbit away. Contrary to that, the latest findings showed that dust rings can form in those parts of space.

The entire discovery is quite ironic. Researchers were looking for a dust free zone around the Sun that would back up a theory that the Sun is able to create a dust-free zone around itself. The idea behind the research was that the size of the dust area, and how far it was from the Sun, would show something about the nature of the dust itself, and how it was shaped by the force of the Sun. And since the dust is ancient, it would tell us something about the evolution of our solar system. Russell Howard, another Researcher who was part of the research, said,

“It wasn’t an isolated thing. All around the Sun, regardless of the spacecraft’s position, we could see the same five percent increase in dust brightness or density. That said something was there, and it’s something that extends all around the Sun.”            

Dust Rings of Venus and Earth

The ring around Venus was discovered about a decade ago and scientists have known about Earth’s dust ring for over 25 years now. Most of the solar system’s asteroids are between Mars and Jupiter. These asteroids are the origin of these dust rings because the constant collisions of these asteroids produce a lot of dust. The newly formed dust is then pulled into the orbits of planets due to their gravity. Ultimately, a dust ring is formed. Petr Pokorný, the Lead Author of the study, referred to the population of asteroids in the following words:

“We thought we’d discovered this population of asteroids, but then had to prove it and show it works. We got excited, but then you realize, ‘Oh, there’s so much work to do.”

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