‘Ghostly glow’ in the solar system could be ‘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 that fall 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 snapped by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and eliminating the expected glow – but a tiny excess of light prevailed.
Scientists cannot be sure where the light is coming from but hypothesize the source is a previously unknown sphere made up of dust from comets, which is reflecting sunlight.
If confirmed, researchers said this dust shell would be a new addition to the known architecture of the solar system.
Scientists have discovered a ‘ghostly glow’ surrounds our solar system while analyzing pictures snapped by NASA’s Hubble telescope
This discovery builds on research conducted in 2021 when another group of astronomers used data from NASA’s interplanetary space probe New Horizon to measure the sky background.
New Horizon also detected a glow around the solar system, but the probe was more than four billion miles from the sun, and what caused it remains a mystery to this day.
Numerous theories range from the decay of dark matter to a huge unseen population of remote galaxies.
Tim Carleton of Arizona State University (ASU) said in a statement: ‘If our analysis is correct, there’s another dust component between us and the distance where New Horizons made measurements.
The team was measuring the darkness of the sky, in which they needed to subtract the zodiacal light, which is the glow given off by stars planets
‘That means this is some kind of extra light coming from inside our solar system.’
Carleton continued to explain that since the light appeared faint in New Horizons’ data due to its distance, the glow must be coming from within the limits of the solar system.
‘It may be a new element to the contents of the solar system that has been hypothesized but not quantitatively measured until now,’ he said.
This led the recent work to use Hubble, which sits about 340 miles above Earth’s surface.
Hubble veteran astronomer Rogier Windhorst, also of ASU, said in a statement: ‘More than 95 percent of the photons in the images from Hubble’s archive come from distances less than 3 billion miles from Earth.
‘Since Hubble’s very early days, most Hubble users have discarded these sky-photons, as they are interested in the faint discrete objects in Hubble’s images such as stars and galaxies.
Hubble (pictured) captured the glow as it around 340 miles above Earth’s surface. Astronomers who analyzed the images suggest the glow could come from a dust sphere made of comets
‘But these sky-photons contain important information which can be extracted thanks to Hubble’s unique ability to measure faint brightness levels to high precision over its three decades of lifetime.’
Hubble, a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, has been observing the universe for over three decades.
It has taken more than 1.5 million observations of the universe, and over 18,000 scientific papers have been published based on its data.
The telescope orbits Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude, slightly higher than the International Space Station.
Launched in April 1990 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Hubble is showing more and more signs of aging, despite a series of repairs and updates by spacewalking astronauts during NASA’s shuttle era.
The telescope is named after famed 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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