Dust gets everywhere, even in the orbit of Venus

Researchers have taken images of a dust ring, thought to be about 220 million kilometres in diameter

Ultra-high definition image of the transit of Venus (right) across the face of the sun last year. Photograph: Nasa via Getty Ultra-high definition image of the transit of Venus (right) across the face of the sun last year. Photograph: Nasa via Getty

Ultra-high definition image of the transit of Venus (right) across the face of the sun last year. Photograph: Nasa via Getty Ultra-high definition image of the transit of Venus (right) across the face of the sun last year. Photograph: Nasa via Getty

Thu, Nov 28, 2013, 01:00

Dust – if it’s not gathering on picture frames or under the bed, it’s forming massive structures in space. Scientists have now seen a dust ring around the sun near the orbit of our planetary neighbour Venus.

The findings, published in the journal Science, come from Nasa’s twin Stereo spacecraft, which were sent out to gather data about the sun, but have also allowed scientists to explore other phenomena too.

Using the Heliospheric Imager (HI) instruments on the Stereo spacecraft, researchers were able to take images of the dust ring, which is thought to be about 220 million kilometres in diameter and corresponds roughly to the orbit of Venus.

“The HI instruments were originally designed to study coronal mass ejections as they travel from the sun to the Earth, but we realised when we started to analyse the HI observations that they contained a rich collection of secondary features such as comets, stars and asteroids,” said researcher Dr Danielle Bewsher from the University of Central Lancashire in a statement. “Pushing the instrument to the limit of its capabilities has allowed us to detect the faint signal of the dust ring in the orbit of Venus.”

It’s a fascinating finding, says astrophysicist Prof Peter Gallagher from Trinity College Dublin, who works with data from Stereo to look at solar activity. “The Stereo HI instrument was designed primarily to study the solar wind and solar mass ejections, but it’s now being used to study everything from comets to searching for exoplanets, and now finding a dust ring along Venus’s orbit,” he says. “Finding the ring was definitely a case of scientific serendipity – let good scientists explore and follow their curiosity and they’ll make discoveries.”


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