SKYSURF astronomers searched 200,000 archival images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope and made tens of thousands of quantitative measurements of light in the night sky. They then looked at all the light sources they could see – the Sun, the planets, the moon, distant galaxies, you know – and determined the amount of light each source was responsible for.
Then, in turn, like blowing out a candle, the researchers subtracted all that light to see what, if any, might be left. Once everything was counted and balanced, astronomers found some residual light, equivalent to the light you would get from 10 fireflies, spread across the night sky.
At this point, it’s unclear where this halo is coming from, but astronomers have an idea. As comets enter the inner solar system, following their orbits toward their closest approach to the Sun, small pieces of matter are expelled and eventually drift into the inner solar system. The scientists propose that these tiny fragments accumulated over the lifetime of the solar system, resulting in a thin dust cloud centered around the Sun.
This cloud will be made up of pieces too small for us to see, but it can capture and reflect light, resulting in low luminescence.
It visited Pluto in 2015 and a small Kuiper object in 2018. Along the way, it captured ambient light at a distance of 6 to 8 billion kilometers from the Sun. At this distance, the proposed solar system inner dust cloud would not affect it. And yet, New Horizons has detected a low-light signature, apparently from a more distant, still unexplained source.
If validated, the results will add another element to our understanding of the formation and evolution of star systems. This would also explain most of the residual light that astronomers observe, 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.
Astronomers have offered several 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 is therefore infinitely faint.
Hubble and other space telescopes often look beyond local light sources to observe objects millions or billions of light-years away, but scientists have proven useful information. in the light-polluted universe could lead to some new answers and entire hosts. new questions about how our universe works.
It’s nice to know that no matter how vast space is and how lonely we sometimes feel in the great cosmic darkness, the universe always leaves us a night light.
- A mysterious glow is seen by astronomers across the solar system
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