Astronomers working with the Parker solar probe have released the first complete image of the circumsolar dust ring along Venus’s orbit. It is believed to be made up of particles left from the protoplanetary disk, as well as asteroids and comets.
Solar rings consist of dust particles, both interplanetary and from asteroids and comets. It is believed that such structures can arise during the gravitational interaction of dust from the zodiacal cloud with the planets of the solar system. There is also an alternative version, according to which such rings around the planets could remain from the time of their formation.
Previously, scientists were aware of the existence of a similar dust ring along the Earth’s orbit, and in 2013 and 2018, the discoveries of similar structures along the orbits of Venus and Mercury were confirmed based on data from solar observation mission STEREO.
No such rings have yet been found on Mars and Jupiter. Such dusty structures are of interest to astronomers searching for exoplanets in the circumstellar disks of other stars, as they can indicate the existence of hidden planets and even tell about their orbital properties.
A team of astronomers led by Guillermo Stenborg of the US Naval Research Laboratory has published the first complete image of a circumsolar dust ring along Venus’s orbit. The images were taken by the Wide-Field Imager for Parker Solar Probe (WISPR) in August-September 2019 when the probe made its third orbit around the Sun.
Initially, the researchers thought they were dealing with a streamer – a plasma structure in the sun’s corona, but simulations and the fact that the observed increase in brightness in the image coincides with the orbit of Venus showed that this is a circumsolar dust ring.
The length of the ring in latitude is estimated at about 0.043 ± 0.004 astronomical units, the average increase in the density of dust in the ring compared to the rest of the zodiacal cloud is about 10 percent.
Future observations with ESA’s Solar Orbiter are expected to provide more accurate data on the density and radial extent of the dust ring around Venus.
Scientists still do not know how dense it is or its radial extent. Once they acquire this data, experts will be able to suggest the most probable origin of the ring. As we mentioned above, there are several versions for the formation of those rings around planets.
Parker’s scientific goals are to measure the characteristics of the solar atmosphere and solar winds. Yet, Venus plays an important role in the mission and the probe has been sending regular accumulations of data about the planet during its mission.
For example, Parker beamed back an incredible close-up image of Venus at night about two months ago. We have a separate article discussing the image and the geological features of the planet visible in the shot. Read all about it here.
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• Rehm, J. (n.d.). Parker solar Probe CAPTURES first complete view of Venus Orbital dust ring.
• Stenborg, G., Raouafi, N. E., Gallagher, B., Howard, R. A., & Hess, P. (n.d.). Pristine PSP/WISPR Observations of the Circumsolar Dust Ring near Venus’s Orbit.