Confirmed: two dust clouds circle around the earth

Astronomers and Hungarian physicists confirmed that there are two dust clouds just 400,000 kilometers from the earth. Its existence had been questioned for decades

Color photography and radiation patterns around the Lagrange point L5, made on August 17, 2017Judit Slíz-Balogh András Barta Gábor Horváth

A team of Hungarian astronomers and physicists confirmed that two dust clouds only cycle 400,000 kilometers from Earth.

The new work appears in the monthly Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The clouds, first reported and mentioned by the Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski in 1961, are very weak, so their existence is controversial.

As explained by the Royal Astronomical Society, the Earth-Moon system has five stability points where gravitational forces maintain the relative position of the objects there. Two of these so-called Lagrange points, L4 and L5, form a triangle of equal sides with the earth and moon and move around the earth as the moon moves along its orbit.

L4 and L5 are not completely stable because they are disturbed by the gravity of the sun. However, it is thought that these are places where interplanetary dust can accumulate, at least temporarily. Kordylewski observed in 1961 two groups of dust nearby in L5, with since then several reports, but their extreme weakness makes them difficult to detect and many scientists doubted their existence.

In the paper, scientists from Eötvös Loránd University modeled clouds to assess how they were formed and how they could be detected. Researchers were interested in their appearance using polarizing filters, which transmit light with a certain direction of oscillation, similar to that of some types of sunglasses. The scattered or reflected light is always more or less polarized, depending on the angle of scattering or reflection.

Then they went looking for the clouds of dust. With a linear polarization filter system connected to a camera lens and a CCD detector in the private observatory of Judit Slíz-Balogh in Hungary (Badacsonytördemic), the scientists have exposed the assumed location of the Kordylewski cloud in point L5.

According to Science Daily, the images they have obtained reflect the polarized light in the dust, which extends well beyond the field of view of the camera lens. The observed pattern coincides with the predictions of the same group of researchers in a previous article and corresponds to the earliest observations of Kordylewski clouds six decades ago. Horváth's group was able to remove optical artifacts and other effects, which means that the presence of the dust cloud is confirmed.

ABC notes that L4 and L5 are seen as potential sites for space probes in orbit around the earth, and as transfer stations for missions exploring the wider solar system. There are also proposals to store contaminants in the two points. Future research will analyze L4 and L5, and the associated Kordylewski clouds, to understand how stable they really are and whether their substance poses a threat to both teams and future astronauts.

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