Solar system’s ‘ghostly glow’ could be a ‘new addition’ to our understanding of its structure – but the source remains a mystery
- NASA’s Hubble Telescope has detected a glow surrounding the solar system
- Scientists are baffled by this glow, which is equivalent to 10 fireflies
- The team believes it could be dust from comets falling into the solar system
A mysterious ‘ghost glow’ equivalent to 10 fireflies has been found around our solar system that persists even when other light sources such as stars and planets are subtracted.
The discovery was made when astronomers set out to see just how dark space could be, which they did by sifting through 200,000 images taken by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope and eliminating the expected glow — but a tiny excess of light prevailed.
Scientists cannot be sure of the source of the light but assume that the source is a previously unknown ball of dust from comets, 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 while 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 Horizons interplanetary space probe to measure the background sky.
New Horizons also detected a flare 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.
Many theories range from the decay of dark matter to an unseen multitude of distant galaxies.
Tim Carlton of Arizona State University (ASU) said in a statement statement: “If our analysis is correct, then there is another dust element between us and the distance New Horizons made the measurements.”
The team was measuring the darkness of the sky, for which they needed to subtract zodiacal light, which is the glow given off by star planets.
This means that this is a kind of additional light that comes from within 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 within the confines of the solar system.
“It may be a new solar system contents component that has been hypothesized but not yet quantified,” he said.
This recent work has led to the use of Hubble, which is located 340 miles above Earth’s surface.
“More than 95 percent of the photons in the images from the Hubble Archives come from distances of less than 3 billion miles from Earth,” veteran Hubble astronomer Roger Windhorst, also of Arizona State University, said in a statement.
Since the very early days of Hubble, most Hubble users have ignored these sky photons, because they are interested in the discrete faint objects in Hubble images such as stars and galaxies.
Hubble (pictured) caught the glow from about 340 miles above Earth’s surface. Astronomers who analyzed the images suggest that the glow could come from a dust ball made of comets
But these sky photons contain important information that can be gleaned from Hubble’s unique ability to measure faint brightness levels with great precision over its three decades of life.
Hubble, a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, has been observing the universe for more than three decades.
It has taken more than 1.5 million observations of the universe, and more than 18,000 scientific papers have been published based on its data.
The telescope orbits Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour in low Earth orbit at an altitude of about 340 miles, which is only slightly higher than the International Space Station.
Launched in April 1990 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Hubble is showing more and more signs of aging, despite a series of repairs and upgrades by spacewalkers during the NASA shuttle era.
The telescope is named after the famous astronomer Edwin Hubble who was born in Missouri in 1889 and discovered that the universe is expanding, as well as its rate of expansion.