Until now, astronomers have assumed that the dust of the zodiac can be traced back to the collision and disintegration of comets and asteroids, which are small celestial bodies made of ice and rocks. But in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets Danish researchers now point to Mars as the main source. “It’s a great article,” says meteorologist Peter Jenniskins of the US SETI Institute.
Small fabrics – on average about a hundredth of a millimeter in size – reflect sunlight. From a dark place on Earth, you can sometimes see a faint glow in the sky: the light of the zodiac. Determining the exact dust distribution in the solar system has proven difficult. In 2007 this was the subject of PhD research by guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May.
Thanks to the small cameras that Jorgensen built for NASA’s Juno space probe, this distribution has now been correctly determined for the first time. This Keeps track of the stars Photograph the starry sky four times per second, allowing Juno to properly orient himself during his long journey to the giant planet Jupiter, where he arrived in 2016. But in addition to the stars, they also recorded countless moving points of light.
Further investigations revealed that the back of Juno’s giant solar panels – with a total surface area of 60 square meters – was, as it were, driven by sand by microscopic dust particles. With its tremendous speed of about 10 kilometers per second, that tiny dust ejected larger particles of material from the panels. These flying particles are illuminated by the sun and leave traces of light on photos.
By calculating the effects of dust particles during the flight to Jupiter, the distribution of zodiac dust can now be studied in detail for the first time. According to the researchers, this distribution can be better explained when the particles originate from Mars. With the caveat that no one really understands how much Martian dust can escape from that planet’s gravitational pull.
This is also one of the reasons Stanley Dermot of the University of Florida questioned this conclusion. Dermott, an expert on cosmic dust, thinks, “It’s great that these large solar panels prove to be the best interplanetary dust detector we currently have. This opens up completely new possibilities for solar system research.
Jenniskins isn’t convinced, either. He adds that space dust is regularly collected in the upper stratosphere by research aircraft. If Jorgensen and co are right, then the interplanetary dust particles should be similar in mineral composition to the Martian dust that has been studied on the planet’s surface by vans like persistence.
“ As far as I know, nothing has ever come out of it, ” says Jenniskins. “But now that the distribution of zodiac matter in the solar system has been carefully measured, it will help find its origin anyway.”