Tiny dust particles in the solar system

Sep 09, 2013
Zodiacal light scattered from dust grains in our solar system is seen rising diagonally up to the left in this image, as the plane of the Milky Way rises up to the right. Scientists have used the STEREO spacecraft to study tiny nanodust particles in the solar system. Credit: Tunc Tezel, TWAN; APOD

(Phys.org) —In our solar system, dust particles are abundant, created by asteroid collisions and by the evaporation of comets. These particles are the source of the zodiacal light, a diffuse glow in the night sky that extends along the ecliptic (the plane of the solar system) and which is seen from Earth stretching along the zodiac, most easily after sunset or before sunrise. It is so faint that moonlight is enough to mask it.

The gravity of the planets affects the distribution of these . The Earth, for example, collects dust in a series of patches which lie in a ring along the Earth's . New measurements used radio instruments on twin interplanetary spacecraft to study nanometer-scale dust particles, or "nanodust." A grain of nanodust is smaller than a wavelength of , and unlike the roughly ten times larger grains responsible for the , nanodust is too small to efficiently scatter sunlight and can only be detected using space instruments. When a grain of nanodust impacts a spacecraft, it creates an expanding cloud of ionized gas which can lead to a voltage pulse between a spacecraft's body and its antenna, and which can then be sensed. Nanodust can be accelerated by the interplanetary magnetic field to the speed of the solar wind—significantly faster than the orbital speeds of heavier . Because the electrical signal induced by a dust grain depends more strongly on its impact speed than on its mass, nanodust produces a strong signal despite its being lightweight.

CfA astronomers Gaetan Le Chat and Justin Kasper, along with eight colleagues, used the Low Frequency Receiver onboard the twin Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) spacecraft in an extensive program spanning seven years to deduce the characteristics of nanodust. The two STEREO spacecraft are in solar orbits with one ahead of the Earth and one trailing behind. On average, the spacecraft recorded about fifty nanodust impacts (voltage pulses) every second, with occasional bursts of up to a thousand hits. The scientists analyzed over seven hundred thousands measurements to conclude that nanodust is a significant contributor to the total mass of material in interplanetary space, in agreement with earlier estimates, and to begin to characterize its properties. Although STEREO was designed to study solar storms, not nanodust, the new results not only help complete the picture of our solar system, they show how innovative scientists can sometimes squeeze added science from workhorse instruments.

Explore further: SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

More information: Le Chat, G. et al. Interplanetary Nanodust Detection by the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory/WAVES Low Frequency Receiver, Solar Physics, 286, 549, 2013.

Related Stories

Coronal mass ejection headed toward Mercury and Venus

Jul 02, 2013

On July 1, 2013, at 6:09 p.m. EDT, the sun erupted with a coronal mass ejection, or CME, a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space that can affect electronic systems ...

Earth-directed coronal mass ejection from the sun

Mar 15, 2013

(Phys.org) —On March 15, 2013, at 2:54 a.m. EDT, the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection (CME), a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of solar particles into space and can ...

Sun emits a solstice CME

Jun 21, 2013

On June 20, 2013, at 11:24 p.m., the sun erupted with an Earth-directed coronal mass ejection or CME, a solar phenomenon that can send billions of tons of particles into space that can reach Earth one to ...

Sun spits out two CMEs

Mar 13, 2013

The sun recently erupted with two coronal mass ejections (CMEs). One began at 8:36 p.m. EDT on March 12, 2013 and is directed toward three NASA spacecraft, Spitzer, Kepler and Epoxi. There is, however, no ...

Interstellar dust and the sun

Nov 12, 2012

(Phys.org)—The space between stars is not empty. It contains copious but diffuse amounts of gas and dust; in fact about 5-10% of the total mass of our Milky Way galaxy is in interstellar gas. About 1% of ...

Recommended for you

SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

5 hours ago

The sun emitted a mid-level flare on Dec. 18, 2014, at 4:58 p.m. EST. NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory, which watches the sun constantly, captured an image of the event. Solar flares are powerful bursts ...

Why is Venus so horrible?

12 hours ago

Venus sucks. Seriously, it's the worst. The global temperature is as hot as an oven, the atmospheric pressure is 90 times Earth, and it rains sulfuric acid. Every part of the surface of Venus would kill you ...

Image: Christmas wrapping the Sentinel-3A antenna

15 hours ago

The moment a team of technicians, gowned like hospital surgeons, wraps the Sentinel-3A radar altimeter in multilayer insulation to protect it from the temperature extremes found in Earth orbit.

Video: Flying over Becquerel

15 hours ago

This latest release from the camera on ESA's Mars Express is a simulated flight over the Becquerel crater, showing large-scale deposits of sedimentary material.

Spinning up a dust devil on Mars

16 hours ago

Spinning up a dust devil in the thin air of Mars requires a stronger updraft than is needed to create a similar vortex on Earth, according to research at The University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH).

User comments : 4

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

cantdrive85
1 / 5 (11) Sep 09, 2013
It is that electrodynamic nanodust which holds the universe together. No DM necessary, just an electrodynamic skeleton of self assembling nanodust produced by plasma arc discharge.
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (11) Sep 09, 2013
hemitite
not rated yet Sep 09, 2013
I'm impressed!
cantdrive85
1 / 5 (8) Sep 09, 2013
If it would be charged, it would explode into infinity.

I guess if you say so, fortunately you don't have a clue as to which you are speaking nor did you read the attached paper. Waving bunnies is infinitely more stupid than electrodynamic nanodust which we know for a fact exists.

http://uni-skelet...main.htm

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.