Zodiacal Dust Seen from Earth Might Come from Mars – Sky & Telescope

Much of the photo voltaic system’s interplanetary mud — seen as zodial gentle from Earth — would possibly come from Mars, in accordance with a brand new research.

The zodiacal gentle, seen as a vibrant patch of sunshine to the correct of the farm, is troublesome to watch besides from darkish skies.Joshua Rhoades / S&T Online Photo GalleryA Danish-American group of researchers say measurements of the mud’s distribution within the interior photo voltaic system counsel the particles have a Martian origin. But others are skeptical, partly as a result of it’s not clear how a lot materials may escape the Red Planet’s gravity.

The particles are between 1 and 100 microns, roughly the vary of the thickness of a human hair. Under best circumstances, this daylight-reflecting mud is seen from Earth because the zodiacal gentle: a triangular glow alongside the ecliptic, most distinguished simply after nightfall within the west or simply earlier than daybreak within the east.

Asteroid collisions and cometary fragmentation are typically thought-about the principle sources of zodiacal mud. But a serendipitous discover by NASA’s Juno area probe now seems to show this concept on its head.

Juno Maps Dust . . . Using Its Solar Panels

Am artist’s conception of Juno at Jupiter. Its photo voltaic panels are giant (60 sq. meters in all) to energy the spacecraft up to now from the Sun, nevertheless it seems they produce other makes use of too. NASA / JPL-Caltech On its solution to its distant goal, Jupiter, Juno first traveled all the way in which into the asteroid belt, than again to Earth for a gravity help, and at last outward once more. While touring the area between Earth’s orbit and the asteroid belt, Juno’s star tracker cameras — designed by John Leif Jørgensen (Technical University of Denmark) — caught mysterious streaks of sunshine. Detailed evaluation revealed they have been submillimeter-dimension items of particles, chipped off from the spacecraft as microscopic mud grains slammed into the bottom of Juno’s big photo voltaic arrays at just a few kilometers per second.

By tallying the variety of micro-impacts, Jørgensen and his colleagues have been in a position to, for the primary time ever, reconstruct how a lot zodiacal mud there may be at numerous distances from the Sun. They revealed the ends in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets. “It’s a fascinating paper,” feedback meteorite researcher Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute).

Stanley Dermott (University of Florida) says he’s “excited to realize that these large solar panels may be the best interplanetary dust detectors available. They may open up a new window of solar system exploration.” Indeed, most devoted mud detectors flown up to now are fairly small and solely seize the way more quite a few sub-micron particles. Juno’s enormous photo voltaic arrays (totaling 60 sq. meters) are giant sufficient to catch bigger zodiacal grains.

Dust from Mars

Based on the Juno knowledge, the authors conclude that the zodiacal mud particles orbit the Sun on round tracks. “We find absolutely no dust outside the 4:1 mean orbital resonance with Jupiter, but lots of it just inside,” says Jørgensen. This resonance is positioned at 2.065 astronomical models from the Sun, the place an object completes 4 orbits in the identical time it takes Jupiter to revolve across the Sun as soon as.

“The only credible explanation is that the dust is trapped inside the 4:1 resonance, so the orbits must be close to circular,” Jørgensen explains.

If colliding asteroids or disintegrating comets have been accountable, scientists would anticipate zodiacal mud particles to have elongated orbits, and Juno must also have measured mud past the resonance. Moreover, the group’s calculations, assuming a Mars origin, neatly reproduce the band-like mud options above and under the ecliptic airplane first noticed within the 1980s by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite.

This picture reveals the zodiacal gentle on March 1, 2021, in Skull Valley, Utah. The Pleiades star cluster, and Mars just under it, are seen close to the highest of the sunshine column. NASA / JPL-CaltechDermott, whose earlier work attributed these mud bands to varied asteroid households, just isn’t satisfied by the arguments.

“Could [the zodiacal dust] come from Mars? Possibly, but the authors do not explain how the dust leaves Mars,” he says. “We are not talking about one event, but about a source that is active for millions of years.” In their paper, Jørgensen and his colleagues briefly think about mud ejection from Phobos as an alternative, however even then, they admit, it’s laborious to see how the mud may escape the Martian system.

Jenniskens has doubts, too. However, he says, “Mapping out the radial distribution of the zodiacal dust, as has now been done for the first time by Juno, will certainly help to eventually identify its source.”


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