Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

ESA sees stardust storms heading for Solar System

20.08.2003


Until ten years ago, most astronomers did not believe stardust could enter our Solar System. Then ESA’’s Ulysses spaceprobe discovered minute stardust particles leaking through the Sun’s magnetic shield, into the realm of Earth and the other planets. Now, the same spaceprobe has shown that a flood of dusty particles is heading our way.



Since its launch in 1990, Ulysses has constantly monitored how much stardust enters the Solar System from the interstellar space around it. Using an on-board instrument called DUST, scientists have discovered that stardust can actually approach the Earth and other planets, but its flow is governed by the Sun’s magnetic field, which behaves as a powerful gate-keeper bouncing most of it back. However, during solar maximum - a phase of intense activity inside the Sun that marks the end of each 11-year solar cycle - the magnetic field becomes disordered as its polarity reverses. As a result, the Sun’s shielding power weakens and more stardust can sneak in.

What is surprising in this new Ulysses discovery is that the amount of stardust has continued to increase even after the solar activity calmed down and the magnetic field resumed its ordered shape in 2001.


Scientists believe that this is due to the way in which the polarity changed during solar maximum. Instead of reversing completely, flipping north to south, the Sun’s magnetic poles have only rotated at halfway and are now more or less lying sideways along the Sun’s equator. This weaker configuration of the magnetic shield is letting in two to three times more stardust than at the end of the 1990s. Moreover, this influx could increase by as much as ten times until the end of the current solar cycle in 2012.

The stardust itself is very fine - just one-hundredth of the width of a human hair. It is unlikely to have much effect on the planets but it is bound to collide with asteroids, chipping off larger dust particles, again increasing the amount of dust in the inner Solar System. On the one hand, this means that the solar panels of spacecraft may be struck more frequently by dust, eventually causing a gradual loss of power, and that space observatories looking in the plane of the planets may have to cope with the haze of more sunlight diffused by the dust.

On the other hand, this astronomical occurrence could offer a powerful new way to look at the icy comets in the Kuiper Belt region of the outer Solar System. Stardust colliding with them will chip off fragments that can be studied collectively with ESA’s forthcoming infrared space telescope, Herschel. This might provide vital insight into a poorly understood region of the Solar System, where the debris from the formation of the planets has accumulated.

Back down on Earth, everyone may notice an increase in the number of sporadic meteors that fall from the sky every night. These meteors, however, will be rather faint.

Astronomers still do not know whether the current stardust influx, apart from being favoured by the particular configuration of the Sun’s magnetic field, is also enhanced by the thickness of the interstellar clouds into which the Solar System is moving. Currently located at the edge of what astronomers call the local interstellar cloud, our Sun is about to join our closest stellar neighbour Alpha Centauri in its cloud, which is less hot but denser.

ESA’s Ulysses data make it finally possible to study how stardust is distributed along the path of the Solar System through the local galactic environment. However, as it takes over 70 thousand years to traverse a typical galactic cloud, no abrupt changes are expected in the short term.

Markus Landgraf | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/sci_mediacentre/release2003.html?release=36

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Hope to discover sure signs of life on Mars? New research says look for the element vanadium
22.09.2017 | University of Kansas

nachricht Calculating quietness
22.09.2017 | Forschungszentrum MATHEON ECMath

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: The pyrenoid is a carbon-fixing liquid droplet

Plants and algae use the enzyme Rubisco to fix carbon dioxide, removing it from the atmosphere and converting it into biomass. Algae have figured out a way to increase the efficiency of carbon fixation. They gather most of their Rubisco into a ball-shaped microcompartment called the pyrenoid, which they flood with a high local concentration of carbon dioxide. A team of scientists at Princeton University, the Carnegie Institution for Science, Stanford University and the Max Plank Institute of Biochemistry have unravelled the mysteries of how the pyrenoid is assembled. These insights can help to engineer crops that remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while producing more food.

A warming planet

Im Focus: Highly precise wiring in the Cerebral Cortex

Our brains house extremely complex neuronal circuits, whose detailed structures are still largely unknown. This is especially true for the so-called cerebral cortex of mammals, where among other things vision, thoughts or spatial orientation are being computed. Here the rules by which nerve cells are connected to each other are only partly understood. A team of scientists around Moritz Helmstaedter at the Frankfiurt Max Planck Institute for Brain Research and Helene Schmidt (Humboldt University in Berlin) have now discovered a surprisingly precise nerve cell connectivity pattern in the part of the cerebral cortex that is responsible for orienting the individual animal or human in space.

The researchers report online in Nature (Schmidt et al., 2017. Axonal synapse sorting in medial entorhinal cortex, DOI: 10.1038/nature24005) that synapses in...

Im Focus: Tiny lasers from a gallery of whispers

New technique promises tunable laser devices

Whispering gallery mode (WGM) resonators are used to make tiny micro-lasers, sensors, switches, routers and other devices. These tiny structures rely on a...

Im Focus: Ultrafast snapshots of relaxing electrons in solids

Using ultrafast flashes of laser and x-ray radiation, scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics (Garching, Germany) took snapshots of the briefest electron motion inside a solid material to date. The electron motion lasted only 750 billionths of the billionth of a second before it fainted, setting a new record of human capability to capture ultrafast processes inside solids!

When x-rays shine onto solid materials or large molecules, an electron is pushed away from its original place near the nucleus of the atom, leaving a hole...

Im Focus: Quantum Sensors Decipher Magnetic Ordering in a New Semiconducting Material

For the first time, physicists have successfully imaged spiral magnetic ordering in a multiferroic material. These materials are considered highly promising candidates for future data storage media. The researchers were able to prove their findings using unique quantum sensors that were developed at Basel University and that can analyze electromagnetic fields on the nanometer scale. The results – obtained by scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics, the Swiss Nanoscience Institute, the University of Montpellier and several laboratories from University Paris-Saclay – were recently published in the journal Nature.

Multiferroics are materials that simultaneously react to electric and magnetic fields. These two properties are rarely found together, and their combined...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

“Lasers in Composites Symposium” in Aachen – from Science to Application

19.09.2017 | Event News

I-ESA 2018 – Call for Papers

12.09.2017 | Event News

EMBO at Basel Life, a new conference on current and emerging life science research

06.09.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rainbow colors reveal cell history: Uncovering β-cell heterogeneity

22.09.2017 | Life Sciences

Penn first in world to treat patient with new radiation technology

22.09.2017 | Medical Engineering

Calculating quietness

22.09.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>