Two 'Dust Moons' Spotted Orbiting Earth End Decades Of Controversy In The Scientific Community

Friday, 02 November 2018 - 12:57PM
Astronomy
Space
Earth
Friday, 02 November 2018 - 12:57PM
Two 'Dust Moons' Spotted Orbiting Earth End Decades Of Controversy In The Scientific Community
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Two new studies (found here and here) have found compelling evidence for the existence of 'dust moons' called Kordylewski dust clouds. There's a lot of strange things following the Earth around, from captured mini-moons to a growing shell of space junk, but this particular phenomenon has eluded scientists for decades.

To understand the Kordylewski dust clouds (or KDCs for short) you have to know something about gravity – specifically, Lagrange points. You may have heard of them when reading about NASA's plans for a Lunar Orbital Gateway-Platform, but here's the simple version: when you have two massive objects in space – like the Earth and the Moon – both of them exert a gravitational force on the smaller objects around them.



However, there are certain points in space that are equal distances from the Earth and Moon where the gravitational pulls are also equal. Anything that hangs around these areas will have a stable orbit, at least in the case of the L4 and L5 Lagrange points. The Earth-Moon L4 and L5 points form two equilateral triangles with apexes midway between the Earth and Moon, and that's where the Kordylewski dust clouds were predicted to be.

But because the clouds are made of dust, they're difficult to spot. Researchers had to rely on picking up light polarization coming off the dust particles in order to detect the clouds. After some careful planning, they were able to locate the type of light signatures they had predicted using computer simulations. According to Judit Slíz-Balogh of Eötvös Loránd University, the lead author of the studies: "The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the moon are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy. It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor."
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