Zodiacal Dust from Interstellar, Asteroidal, and Cometary Sources
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Mission Statement

updated: Fri. 19th June, 2009

The aim of the ZoDIACS project is to build a high-resolution, dual-etalon Fabry-Perot spectrometer to analyze Fraunhofer absorption lines in the solar spectrum of scattered light from zodiacal cloud particles. The doppler shift profiles of these lines should provide useful information about the orbits of the zodiacal cloud particles that we will use to constrain our dynamical models of the dust environment in the inner solar system.

Project Description

updated: Mon. 13th July, 2009

Zodiacal Light What are the specific science goals of the ZoDIACS project?

  1. To determine the structure of the zodiacal cloud, the origin of its constituent particles, and the proportion of particles from asteroidal, cometary and interstellar sources.
  2. To produce an accurate understanding of the delivery of interplanetary dust particles (IDPs) to the near space environment of the Earth-Moon system and the variation of this flux with time in order to better understand the risk associated with space exploration (with particular emphasis on the lunar environment) and to establish the threat posed to artificial satellites.
  3. To model the structure of the circumsolar ring of dust in resonant lock with the Earth .

Who are the ZoDIACS project team members?

Stan Dermott, Fred Hearty, Tom Hicks, Garik Israelian, Tom Kehoe, Brian May, Bill Reach, Michael Rowan-Robinson, Ashley Espy, James Cooper.

What is our strategy for achieving the ZoDIACS science goals?

Our strategy has three components: instrumentation, observation, and modeling.


We aim to build a high-resolution dual-etalon Fabry-Perot spectrometer to measure the doppler shift profile of Mg I lines in the spectrum of solar light scattered off zodiacal cloud particles.


We hope to utilize the Jacobus Kapteyn Telescope (JKT) with a parabolic primary mirror of diameter 1.0m for our observations. The JKT is part of the Isaac Newton Group of telescopes (ING) of the Roque de Los Muchachos Observatory located on the island of La Palma in the Canary Islands, Spain.


The University of Florida dust dynamics group will lead the modeling effort. Their research is focused on investigating the origin of IDPs and their dynamical and collisional evolution. Specific goals relevant to the ZoDIACS project are to: (a) investigate the transport of particles from their source regions to the inner solar system; (b) produce detailed models of the zodiacal cloud, including the background cloud, the solar system dust bands, and the Earth's resonant ring; (c) determine the orbital element and size-frequency distribution of dust particles at 1 AU and the origin of the dust particles accreted by the Earth; (d) ascertain the level of temporal variations in the dust environment of the inner solar system and the accretion rate of IDPs by the Earth, and evaluate potential effects on global climate; and to (e) exploit this research as a basis for interpreting the structure observed in exozodiacal clouds that may result from the collisional evolution of planetesimals and the presence of unseen planets.

Their approach is to build detailed models of the zodiacal cloud that are based upon the results of numerical simulations of the dynamical behavior of its constituent dust particles. This requires determining the three-dimensional spatial and velocity distributions of the cross-sectional area of material produced by the size and orbital element distributions of the dust particles. Model doppler shift profiles of this distribution of material can then be produced and compared with the Fabry-Perot spectrometer data.

A reference that provides a good, if now somewhat out of date, overview of their work is Orbital evolution of interplanetary dust (Dermott et al., 2001, in Interplanetary Dust, eds. E. Grün, B. Å. S. Gustafson, S. F. Dermott, and H. Fechtig, pp. 569-639).