Researchers at the Open University and the University of Central Lancashire have confirmed the existence of a circumsolar dust ring which encircles the Sun and closely follows the orbit of Venus. The discovery is reported in the journal Science on 22nd November 2013, and makes use of observations from NASA’s STEREO spacecraft.
Dust from asteroidal collisions and comet debris are repeatedly tugged by a planet’s gravity to form a ring close to the orbit of that planet. Such a ring has been observed at the Earth’s orbit, but was only hypothesised to exist at Venus.
Using data from the UK-led Heliospheric Imagers on the STEREO, the researchers searched for the faint Venus ring by combining images taken over 10 days intervals to create long-exposure pictures to analyse.
Dr Mark Jones (Open University), who led the project, said “The resulting images show a bright feature close to where we have an edge-on view of Venus’ orbit and is what we’d expect to see from a dust ring following that orbit.”.
Dr Daniel Brown (UCLan) continues, “the dust ring at Earth’s orbit was observed from the Earth, and so only the parts of the ring closest to Earth have been studied, the STEREO spacecraft sit outside the Venus ring, so as they orbit the Sun they are able to build up a more complete picture of the ring’s structure”.
Dr Danielle Bewsher (UCLan) added, “the HI instruments were originally designed to study coronal mass ejections as they travel from the Sun to the Earth, pushing the instrument to the limit of its capabilities has allowed us to detect the faint signal of the dust ring in the orbit of Venus.”
Dr Jones concluded, “This is an important discovery not only because it is a newly confirmed feature of our solar system, but also because understanding resonance rings will help us to interpret future images of exoplanetary systems”.