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Looking into our night sky you’d be forgiven for thinking that – other than the moon, the stars and other celestial objects – the space above our heads is quite dark.

But if we could somehow ‘remove’ those celestial objects, what would we see?

The US Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) is exploring this question, and discovered ‘a ghostly, feeble glow’, equivalent to the glowing of ‘ten fireflies spread across the entire sky’.

The possible causes of this dusty glow phenomena are the focus of a new study published in The Astronomical Journal and The Astrophysical Journal Letters this week.

Named SKYSURF, the project was led by Arizona State University Professor and veteran Hubble Astronomer Dr. Rogier Windhorst, with international partners including PhD student Scott Tompkins from the University of Western Australia node of ICRAR.

This artist’s illustration shows the location and size of a hypothetical cloud of dust surrounding our solar system. Astronomers searched through 200,000 images and made tens of thousands of measurements from Hubble Space Telescope to discover a residual background glow in the sky.
CREDIT: NASA, ESA, Andi James (STScI)

With the help of over 200,000 archived images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Scott’s contribution to the project utilised ProFound – a specialist software developed by his supervisor, ICRAR’s A/Professor Aaron Robotham.

This precision software is designed to extract as much data from the historic images as possible, allowing the team to measure the sky’s residual background glow at a much finer level.

A/Professor Robotham’s custom built algorithm has previously been used to process telescope data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), drawing out every last photon of light received by the near infrared space telescope, and will be used on the upcoming Square Kilometer Array radio telescope which has recently begun construction in Australia and South Africa.

The SKYSURF research has led to several fascinating theories, including the possibility of a ‘dust shell’ created by comets, with outgassed dust and ice particles reflecting light back into the solar system.

 

Read more about the SKYSURF study here: https://hubblesite.org/contents/news-releases/2022/news-2022-050

Discover more about ProFound and it’s use on JWST’s data here: https://www.icrar.org/icrar-enhances-jwst-imaging/