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Earth is being orbited by a pair of wispy ‘dust moons,’ scientists say

In a new paper published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, scientists explain that they’ve confirmed the presence of two clouds of dust that are orbiting Earth at around the same distance as our Moon. The discovery is confirmation of work that stretches back decades to the early 1960s when the clouds were first spotted.

The presence of the dust clouds has been extremely difficult to prove because they’re so faint. They are collections of extremely tiny particles stretched over an enormous area that dwarfs even Earth itself, but they’re definitely there.

These “moons,” as some are calling them, obviously aren’t actually moons as you’d normally think of them. They’re just huge, thin clouds of dust that are trapped in Earth’s orbit. They’re many times the size of Earth itself but you can’t see them with the naked eye because not enough light bounces off of the tiny particles and finds its way to our planet.

The large puffs of space dust have been named “Kordylewski clouds,” which is a nod to astronomer Kazimierz Kordylewski, the first person that claimed to have actually spotted them back in 1961. Even after that discovery, the existence of the clouds was debated, but they’ve now been detected with certainty, proving the scientist, who died in 1981, correct.

“The Kordylewski clouds are two of the toughest objects to find, and though they are as close to Earth as the moon, are largely overlooked by researchers in astronomy,” Judit Slíz-Balogh, co-author of the new study, said in a statement. “It is intriguing to confirm that our planet has dusty pseudo-satellites in orbit alongside our lunar neighbor.”

The existence of the dust clouds doesn’t mean a whole lot to you and I, but it does shed some light on the dynamics of Earth orbit. The points where the dust is trapped are known as Larange points, and scientists believe that locations like these might be the most ideal spots for placing space stations or satellites for long-term use.