The first asteroid belt ever seen outside the solar system is more complex than expected, astronomers have found, using observations from the James Webb Space Telescope.
Looking at the hot dust around a nearby young star, Fomalhaut, to study the belt in infrared light, scientists found that the structures are more complex than the asteroid and Kuiper dust belts of our solar system. .
There are three interlocking belts extending up to 14 billion miles from the star. The scale of the outer belt is about twice that of the Kuiper belt of our solar system.
The inner belts have been revealed by the telescope for the first time.
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Dusty belts surround the star, which can be considered the brightest star in the constellation Piscis Austrinus.
Belts are debris from larger body collisions, often described as “debris disks”.
While the Hubble Space Telescope, Herschel Space Observatory, and the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) have already taken sharp images of the outer belt, none of them have found any structure inside. .
“By looking at the patterns of these rings, we can actually start to make a little sketch of what a planetary system should look like – if we could actually take an image deep enough to see the suspicious planets,” András said. ‘University of Arizona. Gáspár, the lead author of this research, said in a statement.
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Hubble, ALMA and Webb are joining forces to get a broader view of debris disks around multiple stars.
As Webb imagines more systems, NASA says more will be learned about the configurations of the planets that sculpted the belts with their gravitational forces.
For example, inside our solar system, Jupiter circles the asteroid belt, and the inner edge of the Kuiper belt is carved by Neptune.
“The belts around Fomalhaut are a kind of detective story: Where are the planets?” George Rieke, another team member and US chief scientist for Webb’s mid-infrared instrument, said. “I think it’s not a big leap to say there’s probably a really interesting planetary system around the star.”
Webb also imagined what Gáspár coined “the great dust cloud”, which may be evidence of a collision occurring in the outer ring between two protoplanetary bodies. In 2014, subsequent sightings showed that the object had disappeared. One possible explanation is that the new feature is an expanding cloud of very fine dust particles from two icy bodies that crashed into each other.
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The Fomalhaut dust ring was discovered in 1983 during observations made by NASA’s infrared astronomical satellite. The existence of the ring has also been inferred from previous and longer wavelength observations using sub-millimeter telescopes.
The latest results are published in the journal Nature Astronomy.