New observations by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) reveal that the first asteroid belt found outside the solar system is more complex than expected.
Use astronomers JWST To inspect the dusty ring system around whale’s moutha young, hot star located about 25 light-years from Earth and visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Piscis Austrinu, the Southern Fish.
Fomalhaut’s ring system consists of three interlocking belts that span about 14.3 billion miles (23 million kilometers) — about 150 times the distance between Earth and the sun. Episodes are more complicated than either Kuiper belta ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune, or the main asteroid belt, which lies between Jupiter and Mars, new JWST observations show.
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Astronomers discovered the dusty structure surrounding Fomalhaut in 1983 using NASA’s Infrared Astronomical Satellite. However, the two inner belts of this system had not been seen prior to this observation with the JWST.
The dust belts around the young star are thought to be debris from collisions between larger bodies such as asteroids and comets, and are therefore referred to as “debris disks”. These discs are different from Protoplanetary disks, which keeps material that later clumps together to form planets. The debris disks form later, after the planets are in place.
“I would describe Fomalhaut as the archetype for debris disks found elsewhere in our galaxy, because they contain similar components to those found in our planetary system,” András Gáspár of the University of Arizona, lead author of a study announcing the new findings, he said in a statement (Opens in a new tab).
“Looking at the patterns in these rings, we can actually start to draw a small outline of what a planetary system should look like – if we can actually take a picture deep enough to see the suspected planets,” Gaspard added.
Fomalhaut’s outer belt, twice the size of the Kuiper belt, was previously imaged by Hubble Space Telescope, the Herschel Space Observatory and the Atacama Large Millimeter/Sub-Terrestrial Array (ALMA). However, none of these instruments were able to see the internal structure within the outer girdle.
“Where JWST really excels is that we’re able to physically resolve the thermal glow from the dust in those inner regions. So you can see inner belts that we haven’t been able to see before,” study team member Schuyler Wolf, also of Arizona State University, said. In the same statement.
Going forward, astronomers hope to image debris disks like Fomalhaut around other stars with the JWST.
with Hubble and Alma“We were able to image a range of Kuiper belt analogues, and we learned a lot about how the outer disks form and evolve,” Wolfe continued. But we need JWST to allow us to image a dozen or so asteroid belts elsewhere. We can learn as much about the warm inner regions of these disks as Hubble and ALMA have taught us about the cooler outer regions. “
Just like Jupiter dominates the main asteroid belt As Neptune carves the Kuiper belt, astronomers think that debris disks outside the solar system may be formed by unseen planets. This means that there may be one or two planets lurking in the rings around Fomalhaut.
“We certainly didn’t expect the more complex structure with the second intermediate belt and then the wider asteroid belt,” Wolf said. “This structure is very exciting, because anytime an astronomer sees a gap and rings in a disk, they say, ‘There could be an embedded planet that makes up the rings!'”
A feature already detected by JWST in the rings may indicate the presence of protoplanetary formation. The team saw what Gaspar called a “great dust cloud,” which may indicate a collision in Fomalhaut’s outer ring between minor planets “under construction.” Thus, this feature could be an expanding cloud of very fine dust particles from two icy bodies colliding with each other.
Hubble spotted a similar feature in the same ring in 2008. It dissipated by the time the space telescope re-examined the ring system in 2014, the researchers said.
Deeper investigations into more systems like Fomalhaut with JWST can reveal how planets move through these flat disks. Meanwhile, observing the same dust cloud can reveal details about the structure of planetary systems other than our own. This includes discovering the shape of asteroids – which are much smaller than seen even with powerful instruments like JWST or Hubble – and whether they resemble the space rocks orbiting our star and their planets.
The team’s research was published online Monday (May 8) in the journal natural astronomy (Opens in a new tab).
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