Zodiacal Dust Seen from Earth Might Come from Mars

Much of the solar system’s interplanetary mud — seen as zodial mild from Earth — may come from Mars, in keeping with a brand new research.

Zodiacal light
The zodiacal mild, seen as a shiny patch of sunshine to the appropriate of the farm, is troublesome to look at besides from darkish skies.
Joshua Rhoades / S&T Online Photo Gallery

A Danish-American group of researchers say measurements of the mud’s distribution within the inside solar 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 situations, this sunlight-reflecting mud is seen from Earth because the zodiacal mild: a triangular glow alongside the ecliptic, most distinguished simply after daybreak within the west or simply earlier than nightfall 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 space probe now seems to show this concept on its head.

Juno Maps Dust…Using Its Solar Panels

Juno Jupiter
Am artist’s conception of Juno at Jupiter. Its solar panels are giant (60 sq. meters in all) to energy the spacecraft to this point from the Sun, however it seems they produce other makes use of too.
NASA / JPL-Caltech

On its way to its distant goal, Jupiter, Juno first traveled all of the way into the asteroid belt, than again to Earth for a gravity help, and eventually 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 had been submillimeter-size items of particles, chipped off from the spacecraft as microscopic mud grains slammed into the bottom of Juno’s large solar arrays at a number of kilometers per second.

By tallying the variety of micro-impacts, Jørgensen and his colleagues had been in a position to, for the primary time ever, reconstruct how a lot zodiacal mud there may be at varied 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 to this point are fairly small and solely seize the rather more quite a few sub-micron particles. Juno’s large solar 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 had been accountable, scientists would count on zodiacal mud particles to have elongated orbits, and Juno also needs to have measured mud past the resonance. Moreover, the staff’s calculations, assuming a Mars origin, neatly reproduce the band-like mud options above and under the ecliptic plane first noticed within the Eighties by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite.

Zodiacal light
This picture exhibits the zodiacal mild 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-Caltech

Dermott, 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 contemplate mud ejection from Phobos as an alternative, however even then, they admit, it’s exhausting 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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