Dust appears everywhere – on bookshelves, under the sofa, and now, apparently, in the rings around Merkura. Astronomers made a surprising discovery, finding a cosmic dust ring in an unexpected place in our Solar System.
Solar scientists Guillermo Stenborg and Russell Howard from the Shipbuilding Laboratory in Washington, D.C. they did not ask for dust. On the contrary, they were looking for a dust-free area near the Sun in preparation for research by Parker Solar Probe. Scientists believe there should be a region near the Sun where the heat of the star would evaporate any dust, and finding the edge of this area could tell us more about what made the cosmic dust and how the planets formed in the young solar system.
Instead, Stenborg and Howard encountered a "fine haze of cosmic dust" that spilled the Merkur orbit, which forms a ring 9.3 million kilometers wide. Merkur is only 3030 miles wide, so it floats through the huge sea of dust as it moves around the sun.
"We are not very dusty people," Howard said in a statement. His team was trying to remove the effects of dust from images so Parker Solar Probe could see the Sun more clearly. "Dust near the sun only appears in our observations, and generally, we have thrown it." But this time they realized that the dust they are trying to clear far far denser and more frequent than they expected.
Earlier scientists had not thought that there could be a dust ring around Merkur, so no one had to look for him before. "People thought that Merkur, unlike Earth or Venus, was too small and too close to the Sun to catch the dust ring," Stenborg said. "They expected that the solar wind and the magnetic forces from the Sun would blow excess dust on Mercury's orbit."
Now Howard and Stenborg will go through the challenge of exploring Merkur's dust dust to "dust people" and focus on the search for dust free zones, as Parker Solar Probe explores the Sun's corona.