Astronomers detect mysterious glow around the solar system

Astronomers detect mysterious glow around the solar system

From Dean Devlin, the creative mind behind Independence Day and stargatecomes a new sci-fi adventure set in deep space. The Ark is set 100 years in the future, as the crew of the Ark One sets out to find a new home planet, with the fate of mankind at stake. The Ark takes our species on a deadly journey into deep space, mysteries abound here at home. According to a recent NASA announcement, and based on a handful of articles published in The Astronomical Journal and Letters from the Astrophysical Journalthere’s more light in the solar system than we can legitimately account for, and we don’t know exactly why.

SKYSURF astronomers scoured 200,000 archival images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and made tens of thousands of measurements quantifying light in the night sky. They then looked at all the light sources they could see – the Sun, planets, moons, distant galaxies, you get the idea – and determined how much light each was responsible for. Then, one at a time, like blowing out candles, the researchers subtracted all that light to see what, if anything, might remain. When everything was counted and the scales balanced, astronomers found some remaining light, about the same glow you’d get from 10 fireflies, spread across the night sky.

At this time, it’s unclear where this afterglow is coming from, but astronomers have an idea. As comets enter the inner solar system, following their orbit towards the closest approach to the Sun, small bits of material are expelled and eventually float into the inner solar system. The scientists propose that these small pieces accumulated over the lifetime of the solar system, resulting in a thin cloud of dust centered around the Sun. This cloud would be made up of pieces too small for us to see, but it could capture and reflect light, resulting in low afterglow.

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If validated, the results would add an additional element to our understanding of the formation and evolution of star systems. This would also explain most of the residual light astronomers observed, but not all. Last year, astronomers used data from the New Horizons spacecraft to find an even fainter but equally mysterious light source. New Horizons has spent years traversing the far reaches of our solar system. It visited Pluto in 2015 and a small Kuiper object in 2018. Along the way, it captured ambient light at a distance of between 6 and 8 billion kilometers from the Sun. At this distance, the proposed inner solar system dust cloud would not have influenced it. And yet, New Horizons has detected a faint light signature, apparently from a more distant source, which also remains unexplained.

Astronomers have offered a number of explanations, including dark matter reactions and undiscovered galaxies, but dust could also be the culprit here. Without the influence of a star to hold it together, it propagates through intergalactic space and, therefore, is incredibly faint.

Hubble and other space telescopes typically look beyond local light sources in favor of distant objects millions or billions of light-years away, but scientists have demonstrated that there is useful information in light pollution cosmic locality that could lead to some new answers and a whole host of new questions about how our universe works.

It’s also kind of nice to know that no matter how big the space and how lonely we sometimes feel in the great cosmic darkness, the universe always leaves us with a night light on.

The Ark debuts on SYFY in February 2023.

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