STEREO images being processed for Vulcanoid searches. In panel a), the original image. Panel b), image after removal of the solar corona. Panel c), image after removal of solar streamers and flares. Panel d), subtracted images to delete fixed sources (i.e. stars). Only small moving sources (and noise) should remain.

DAILY PAPER SUMMARIES

Cleaning Up The Solar System

BY ELIZABETH LOVEGROVE
JANUARY 29, 2013

FILED UNDER ASTEROIDS, CLEAN UP AROUND HERE IT’S A MESS, DEBRIS, SOLAR SYSTEM, SOLAR SYSTEM FORMATION, STEREO, SUN, THINGS WITH COOL NAMES, VULCANOIDS
TITLE: A Search for Vulcanoids with the STEREO Heliospheric Imager
AUTHORS: A. J. Steffl, N. J. Cunningham, A. B. Shinn, D. D. Durda, S. A. Stern
FIRST AUTHOR’S INSTITUTION: Southwest Research Institute, Boulder

The recent evidence for an asteroid belt in the Vega system highlights how well we’re getting to know the solar systems around other stars. But there are some surprising gaps in our knowledge of our own. Inwards of the orbit of Mercury, there exists a dynamically stable region between about 0.21 AU and 0.07 AU where objects can orbit without being perturbed by Mercury or vaporized by the Sun. As far back as 1859 astronomers proposed that there might be at least one small planet lurking in this region, at the time a potential explanation for the odd precession of Mercury, and gave this hypothetical world the name “Vulcan”. Although Mercury’s orbital behavior was later explained by Einstein using general relativity, the idea of close-in planetesimals called “Vulcanoids” stuck around. The orbital motions of Mercury, Venus, and the Sun rule out a planet, but there’s still room for smaller objects. We now know that many, many exoplanet systems feature full-blown planets that orbit far closer in to their stars than Mercury does to the Sun. Why not some debris in ours?

Read more: Cleaning Up The Solar System | astrobites.

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