Astronomers claim that the Earth has two ghostly dust moons

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A team of astronomers and physicists claims that Earth has two ghostly dust moons just a few hundred thousand miles away, according to a new study.

The elusive Kordylewski dust clouds, named after the Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski, who first discovered them in 1961, are a controversial topic. The clouds, which were theorized in the 1950s, are said to have formed around the semi-stable Lagrange points L4 and L5, where gravitational forces maintain the relative position of objects and move around the earth as the moon moves in its orbit.

But they are so weak that their existence is questionable. Kordylewski observed two dust groups at L5 in 1961 and other reports have supported him, but the pseudo-satellites are not always observable. The Japanese Hiten spacecraft, for example, could not detect the clouds with the Munich Dust Counter, an impact ionization detector for determining the mass and velocity of cosmic dust when it passed the L4 and L5 points in 2009.

Mosaic pattern of the polarization angle around the L5 point (white point) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the fields of view of the imaging polarimetric telescope, which were used to measure the polarization patterns of the Kordylewski dust cloud. (Source: J. Slíz-Balogh / Eötvös Loránd University)J. Slíz-Balogh / Eötvös Loránd University

Earlier this year, a Hungarian team led by Gábor Horváth from Eötvös Loránd University modeled the Kordylewski clouds to assess how they are formed and how they can be discovered. They hypothesized that the clouds could appear when using polarizing filters, such as those used in sunglasses, to pick up scattered, reflected light from the dust.

Using a linear polarizing filter system connected to the camera lens and CCD detector at Judit Slíz-Balogh's private observatory in Hungary, the team was able to record polarized, dust-borne light far out of the camera's field of view , at L5. The pattern corresponds both to their own predictions about where the dust moon should be and to the observations originally made by Kordylewski.

"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the hardest objects to find, and although they are as close to Earth as the Moon, they are largely overlooked by astronomers, and it is fascinating to confirm that our planet is dusty next to our Moon neighbor Pseudo-satellites in orbit, "said Sliz-Balogh in a statement for the Royal Astronomical Society.

It is also a discovery that requires further exploration. Because of their stability, the Lagrange points are often touted as potential locations for space stations that would allow deeper exploration of the galaxy as a starting point for trips to Mars and further, petrol stations for mining operations, somewhere to store pollutants or even places. But scientists must first know if the dust there poses a threat to potential spaceships or future astronauts.

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A team of astronomers and physicists claims that Earth has two ghostly dust moons just a few hundred thousand miles away, according to a new study.

The elusive Kordylewski dust clouds, named after the Polish astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski, who first discovered them in 1961, are a controversial topic. The clouds, which were theorized in the 1950s, are said to have formed around the semi-stable Lagrange points L4 and L5, where gravitational forces maintain the relative position of objects and move around the earth as the moon moves in its orbit.

But they are so weak that their existence is questionable. Kordylewski observed two dust groups at L5 in 1961 and other reports have supported him, but the pseudo-satellites are not always observable. The Japanese Hiten spacecraft, for example, could not detect the clouds with the Munich Dust Counter, an impact ionization detector for determining the mass and velocity of cosmic dust when it passed the L4 and L5 points in 2009.

Mosaic pattern of the polarization angle around the L5 point (white point) of the Earth-Moon system. The five rectangular windows correspond to the fields of view of the imaging polarimetric telescope, which were used to measure the polarization patterns of the Kordylewski dust cloud. (Source: J. Slíz-Balogh / Eötvös Loránd University)J. Slíz-Balogh / Eötvös Loránd University

Earlier this year, a Hungarian team led by Gábor Horváth from Eötvös Loránd University modeled the Kordylewski clouds to assess how they are formed and how they can be discovered. They hypothesized that the clouds could appear when using polarizing filters, such as those used in sunglasses, to pick up scattered, reflected light from the dust.

Using a linear polarizing filter system connected to the camera lens and CCD detector at Judit Slíz-Balogh's private observatory in Hungary, the team was able to record polarized, dust-borne light far out of the camera's field of view , at L5. The pattern corresponds both to their own predictions about where the dust moon should be and to the observations originally made by Kordylewski.

"The Kordylewski clouds are two of the hardest objects to find, and although they are as close to Earth as the Moon, they are largely overlooked by astronomers, and it is fascinating to confirm that our planet is dusty next to our Moon neighbor Pseudo-satellites in orbit, "said Sliz-Balogh in a statement for the Royal Astronomical Society.

It is also a discovery that requires further exploration. Because of their stability, the Lagrange points are often touted as potential locations for space stations that would allow deeper exploration of the galaxy as a starting point for trips to Mars and further, petrol stations for mining operations, somewhere to store pollutants or even places. But scientists must first know if the dust there poses a threat to potential spaceships or future astronauts.

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