Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

European Space Agency Sees Stardust Storms Heading For Solar System

Date:
August 20, 2003
Source:
European Space Agency
Summary:
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.

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.

Related Articles


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.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by European Space Agency. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

European Space Agency. "European Space Agency Sees Stardust Storms Heading For Solar System." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 August 2003. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/08/030820072849.htm>.
European Space Agency. (2003, August 20). European Space Agency Sees Stardust Storms Heading For Solar System. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 21, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/08/030820072849.htm
European Space Agency. "European Space Agency Sees Stardust Storms Heading For Solar System." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2003/08/030820072849.htm (accessed April 21, 2015).

Share This


More From ScienceDaily



More Space & Time News

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Hubble Marks 25th Birthday as Successor Readies for Launch

Hubble Marks 25th Birthday as Successor Readies for Launch

AFP (Apr. 20, 2015) — With the Hubble Space Telescope celebrating its 25th anniversary on April 24, 2015, AFPTV takes a look at Hubble&apos;s control room and gets a sneak peek inside the space center assembling the James Webb Telescope - Hubble&apos;s successor. Duration: 02:52 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Rocket Science: Building And Testing The Space Launch System

Rocket Science: Building And Testing The Space Launch System

Newsy (Apr. 19, 2015) — NASA&apos;s new rocket system will eventually be the most powerful ever built by man, but there are a lot of moving parts to test first. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
2015 NASA Rover Challenge Underway in Alabama

2015 NASA Rover Challenge Underway in Alabama

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Apr. 19, 2015) — Teams face an uphill battle for fastest rover in this year&apos;s NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge in Alabama. Julie Noce reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
International Space Station Captures SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft

International Space Station Captures SpaceX Dragon Spacecraft

Reuters - News Video Online (Apr. 17, 2015) — SpaceX&apos;s Dragon spacecraft reaches the International Space Station and is successfully captured by the station&apos;s robotic arm. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories

 

Space & Time

Matter & Energy

Computers & Math

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins