Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Astronomers Have Found A New Twist In A Suspected Protoplanetary Disk

Date:
January 14, 1998
Source:
Space Telescope Science Institute
Summary:
A telltale new warp uncovered in a vast, thin disk of dust encircling the star Beta Pictoris may be caused by the gravitational tug of a bypassing star or companion brown dwarf, say Hubble Space Telescope astronomers.

A telltale new warp uncovered in a vast, thin disk of dust encircling the star Beta Pictoris may be caused by the gravitational tug of a bypassing star or companion brown dwarf, say Hubble Space Telescope astronomers. These conclusions are based on unprecedented detail in Hubble images taken with the Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, which reveal the dim outermost reaches of the disk, which are 7 billion miles from the central star.

Though other Hubble teams have seen a warp in the inner edge of the disk and attributed it to the gravitational tug of unseen planets, the new WFPC2 images show that the warp in the outer edge of the disk is too great to be easily explained by the effects of planets, say researchers.

These results were presented at the 191st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Washington, DC, by team leader Al Schultz of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC) at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, MD, and Fred Bruhweiler of The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington DC. (Other team members include Cherie Miskey, Brendan Smith, Jeff Silvis and Michael DiSanti of CUA, Helen Hart of CSC/STScI, Glenn Schneider of Steward Observatory, in Tucson, and Kent Reinhard of Doane College in Nebraska).

According to Bruhweiler, "The distortions we are seeing may have been caused by the passing of a nearby star within the past few 100 million years since the disk was formed. The culprit could easily be a thousand light-years away by now. We probably will never know who did it."

On the other hand, team lead Al Schultz favors the idea that the warp could be caused by a small faint brown dwarf star which may be circling Beta Pictoris at large distances. He suggests a search for faint stellar companions might find such a star.

Schultz and Bruhweiler agree their findings do not necessarily rule out the presence of one or more planets circling Beta Pictoris at closer distances.

Previous Hubble observations, as well as new images using the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph aboard Hubble, show warping or bending of the disk close to Beta Pictoris at distances within 750 million miles (80 astronomical units) of the star.

In 1996, Chris Burrows of the Space Telescope Science Institute originally proposed this warping could be due to a massive planet orbiting Beta Pictoris at angles out of the plane of the disk. This was proposed to explain the warp in the disk on opposite sides of the star, like a twist in an airplane propeller.

A Young Planetary System?

Located 60 light-years away in the southern constellation Pictor the star Beta Pictoris has been considered the best example of how a star would be expected to look if it possessed a planetary system still forming. "The new Hubble pictures show many new indications that this disk may be the outer reaches of a solar system around Beta Pictoris," said Bruhweiler, "It could be what our solar system looked like four billion years ago."

This huge dust disk seems to have an analogue in our own solar system and appears to be similar to the primordial disk dating from the time of the formation of the solar system. The comets of our solar system have their origins in a similar disk or cloud still surrounding the Sun.

Astronomers theorize that when the solar system formed some 4.6 billion years ago, all the gas and dust quickly settled into a flat disk. This disk is thought to have been quite large, some 200,000 times the distance between the Earth and the Sun, and extended a significant distance to the nearest star. Over time, the orbits of dust and comets in the extreme outreaches of this disk, were transformed by the faint tugs of gravity from passing nearby stars. The successive tugs of these passing stars altered the shape of the disk until the outermost comets of this disk formed an almost spherical, or possibly even football shaped, halo around the Sun (called the Oort's Cloud after the Dutch astronomer who hypothesized its existence). The inner region of the solar system's originally flat disk has been perturbed very little by the gravitational tug of nearby stars and still seems to have remained essentially flat. This inner region is called the Kuiper Belt.

"What is so surprising is that it appears that we are looking at the disk of Beta Pictoris at an angle that is almost exactly edge-on. The probability of this happening is very small," said team member Helen Hart. The images show a sharp, bright, straight ridge extending over the entire length of the disk, as well as the increased thickness or "flaring" of the disk close in toward the star.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Space Telescope Science Institute. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Space Telescope Science Institute. "Astronomers Have Found A New Twist In A Suspected Protoplanetary Disk." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 January 1998. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/01/980114052913.htm>.
Space Telescope Science Institute. (1998, January 14). Astronomers Have Found A New Twist In A Suspected Protoplanetary Disk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/01/980114052913.htm
Space Telescope Science Institute. "Astronomers Have Found A New Twist In A Suspected Protoplanetary Disk." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/01/980114052913.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Space & Time News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

Space to Ground: Hello Georges

NASA (Aug. 18, 2014) Europe's ATV-5 delivers new science and the crew tests smart SPHERES. Questions or comments? Use #spacetoground to talk to us. Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Tiny Satellites, Like The One Tossed From ISS, On The Rise

Newsy (Aug. 18, 2014) The Chasqui I, hand-delivered into orbit by a Russian cosmonaut, is one of hundreds of small satellites set to go up in the next few years. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
This Week @ NASA, August 15, 2014

This Week @ NASA, August 15, 2014

NASA (Aug. 15, 2014) Carbon Observatory’s First Data, ATV-5 Delivers Cargo, Cygnus Departs Station and more... Video provided by NASA
Powered by NewsLook.com
Space Shuttle Replica Hoisted for Landmark Exhibit

Space Shuttle Replica Hoisted for Landmark Exhibit

Reuters - US Online Video (Aug. 14, 2014) The space shuttle replica Independence has been hoisted atop Space Center Houston's shuttle carrier aircraft, creating a monument to the shuttle program which will open to the public next year. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins