NASA's research finds dust rings in the inner solar system

Dust can be a problem in homes and offices here on Earth, but dust isn't an Earth-bound phenomenon. Dust also gathers in the solar system and space in general, and NASA data has been used in a couple of new studies that report newly discovered dust rings in the inner solar system. One of the studies used NASA data to outline evidence of a dust ring around the Sun at Mercury's orbit.

The second study was conducted by NASA directly and has identified the likely source of a dust ring at Venus' orbit. The source is believed to be a group of asteroids that co-orbit with the planet. NASA points out that it's not every day something new about the inner solar system is discovered.

Scientists Guillermo Stenborg and Russell Howard discovered the dust ring over Mercury's orbit when looking for evidence of a dust-free zone close to the Sun. The challenge is that when viewed from Earth, dust between us and the sun fools scientists into thinking the space near the sun is dustier than it actually is.

The scientists used a new technique to separate two types of light, light from the sun's outer atmosphere and light reflected off the dust floating in space in images taken by the STEREO satellite. Sunlight reflected off the dust is about 100 times brighter than coronal light making observations difficult. Scientists have known about the dust ring in Venus' orbit, but its origins were a mystery.

The discovery here is that the dust is believed to be the result of previously unknown asteroids in Venus' orbit that may orbit on the other side of the sun from Venus. The team used data gathered from a couple of models and believe that the asteroids formed near Venus' orbit early in the solar system's development. Now that the scientists have a theory on what created the dust cloud, the next step is more difficult, directly observing the asteroids.