Launched in January 2006, the New Horizons probe continues, even 10.3 billion kilometers from Earth, bringing important information: a group of NASA researchers recently published work in which, through images from the distant probe, they are able to determine whether outer space is really dark.
The question, which has intrigued scientists for decades, was analyzed in a study by astronomer Tod Lauer and other NASA researchers responsible for the New Horizons mission, which currently travels far beyond the dwarf planet Pluto.
In fact, New Horizons’ original mission was to explore the farthest planet in our Solar System, but after flying over it in July 2015, the probe simply continued its journey to the farthest reaches of outer space. It is currently 50 times farther from the Sun than Earth, and it was this distance from the Solar System’s main light source that spurred the new research.
in total darkness
New Horizons’ position today places it away from the major sources of light contamination that could impede the detection of any kind of light signal from the universe itself. In our inner solar system, for example, space is filled with dust particles that naturally reflect sunlight, creating a diffuse glow that spreads across the sky.
As in the place where New Horizons is located there are no signs of cosmic dust or sunlight, which is very weak, the researchers analyzed the images captured by the telescope and the probe’s simple camera, and naturally what they managed to obtain were totally photos. dull and lackluster.
Astronomers then processed the images, removing all known sources of visible light. However, even taking out the light from the stars, plus the scattered light from the Milky Way, and any interference from the camera, scientists continued to perceive light coming from a place beyond our galaxy.
Where does this light come from?
According to Lauer, there is still not an entirely concrete answer as to what is the origin of so much light in outer space. He says there could be many more small, weaker dwarf galaxies on the “periphery” of the systems we know. Or perhaps the amount of dust is greater than expected.
A weirder explanation might be the existence of some as-yet-unknown phenomenon in the universe that creates visible light. It could even be something related to dark matter, a supposed form of matter that exerts gravitational attraction but has never been seen.
For Marc Postman, co-author of the study, “the components that emit light are something that would give us a good sense and understanding of why this light exists.” And that is what the new study will be able to provide, as the location of New Horizons will allow new measurements to be taken in a place in outer space that is totally “clean”.
Until then, admits Postman, space will still remain dark.