Scientists Discover Mysterious Dust Ring In Mercury’s Orbit

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A recent study found a big dust ring of previously undiscovered asteroids located in Mercury’s orbit that’s similar to the dust halo near Venus. Marc Kuchner, who is the co-author of the Venus study and an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said, “It’s not every day you get to discover something new in the inner solar system. This is right in our neighborhood.”

While Earth and Venus have both collected co-orbiting dust rings due to their gravitational pulls, Mercury wasn’t believed to have been a part of that since it’s so small and close to the sun that capturing a dust ring seemed highly unlikely. The magnetic forces and solar wind from our sun was believed to have blown any dust away from Mercury’s orbit.

Mercury

However, after researchers studied pictures taken by one of NASA’s twin Solar and Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), they noticed a lot more dust around Mercury than they had expected. Russell Howard, who is a solar scientist at the Naval Research Laboratory and co-author of the study, explained, “All around the sun, regardless of the spacecraft’s position, we could see the same 5 percent increase in dust brightness, or density. That said something was there, and it’s something that extends all around the sun.” The dust ring is approximately 9.3 million miles wide according to calculations done by the team.

And that’s not the only news in relation to asteroids. As for Venus’ halo of dust, it is 6 million miles across and 16 million miles from top to bottom, but if all the dust was to be packed tightly together, it would only create an asteroid 2 miles across. Kuchner, and another NASA Goddard astrophysicist named Petr Pokorný, attempted to figure out where the dust in Venus’ orbiting ring originated from, and while they thought it could have came from the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, their theory didn’t work.

They now believe that a population of undiscovered asteroids are what’s orbiting around the sun and Venus. “We thought we’d discovered this population of asteroids, but then had to prove it and show it works,” said Pokorný, “We got excited, but then you realize, ‘Oh, there’s so much work to do.’”

Venus

The two scientists created a model of 10,000 hypothetical Venus-orbit asteroids from the last 4.5 billion years of our solar system and 800 of those are still surviving, which means that it’s very possible that an asteroid population exists in Venus’ orbital path. And since the sun has such a blinding glare which makes it very hard to see anything near it, it’s quite possible that these previously undetected asteroids have been there all along.

“We should be able to find it,” Pokorný said in reference to the possibility of an asteroid population existing in Venus’ orbital path, and they hope that NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope will be able confirm it for them. You can read Pokorný and Kuchner’s study which was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters by clicking here.



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