The ‘ghostly glow’ in the solar system could be a ‘new addition’ to our understanding of its structure – but the source remains a mystery
- NASA’s Hubble Telescope has discovered a glow surrounding the solar system
- Scientists are baffled by this glow that is equivalent to 10 fireflies
- The team theorizes it could be dust from comets falling into the solar system
A mysterious “ghostly glow” equivalent to 10 fireflies has been found around our solar system that persists even when other light sources like stars and planets are subtracted.
The discovery was made when astronomers set out to see just how dark space can be, which they did by sifting through 200,000 images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and eliminating the expected glow – but a small excess of light prevailed.
Scientists can’t be sure where the light is coming from, but theorize the source is a previously unknown sphere composed of comet dust, which reflects sunlight.
If confirmed, the researchers said this dust shell would be a new addition to the known architecture of the solar system.
Scientists have discovered a ‘ghostly glow’ surrounding our solar system by analyzing images taken by NASA’s Hubble Telescope
The discovery builds on research conducted in 2021 when another group of astronomers used data from NASA’s New Horizon interplanetary space probe to measure the sky background.
New Horizon also detected a glow around the solar system, but the probe was over four billion miles from the sun, and its cause remains a mystery to this day.
Many theories range from the decay of dark matter to a huge unseen population of distant galaxies.
Tim Carleton of Arizona State University (ASU) said in a statement: “If our analysis is correct, there is another component of dust between us and the distance where New Horizons made measurements.”
The team was measuring the darkness of the sky, from which they had to subtract zodiacal light, which is the glow emitted by star planets
“That means it’s some kind of extra light coming from inside our solar system.”
Carleton went on to explain that since the light appeared dim in the New Horizons data due to its distance, the glow must have come from the edges of the solar system.
“This may be a new piece of solar system content that has been hypothesized but not measured quantitatively so far,” he said.
This has led recent work to use Hubble, which sits about 340 miles above the Earth’s surface.
Veteran Hubble astronomer Rogier Windhorst, also of ASU, said in a statement: “More than 95% of the photons in the Hubble Archive images come from distances less than 3 billion kilometers from Earth.”
“Since the very early days of Hubble, most Hubble users have rejected these photons from the sky because they are interested in faint discrete objects in Hubble images, such as stars and galaxies.”
Hubble (pictured) captured the glow while it was around 340 miles above the Earth’s surface. Astronomers who analyzed the images suggest the glow could come from a dust sphere made of comets
“But those sky photons contain important information that can be extracted through Hubble’s unique ability to measure low levels of light with high precision over its three-decade lifespan.”
Hubble, a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, has observed the universe for more than three decades.
It took over 1.5 million observations of the universe and over 18,000 scientific papers have been published based on its data.
The telescope orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph in low Earth orbit at an altitude of about 340 miles, slightly higher than the International Space Station.
Launched in April 1990 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Hubble is showing increasing signs of age, despite a series of repairs and updates by spacewalking astronauts in the days of space shuttles. Nasa.
The telescope is named after famous astronomer Edwin Hubble, who was born in Missouri in 1889 and discovered that the universe is expanding, as well as the rate at which it is doing so.
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