Two Planetesimals Colliding

Webb explores the Fomalhauts asteroid belt and discovers proof of hidden planets

This artist’s illustration depicts a collision between two icy, dusty our bodies orbiting the intense star Fomalhaut, positioned 25 light-years away. This will likely have precipitated an increasing cloud of very tremendous mud particles. Astronomers utilizing NASA’s James Webb House Telescope have now found three nested particles belts surrounding the younger star. These bands, which may very well be carved by the gravitational forces of unseen planets, present details about the construction of exoplanetary techniques. Credit: ESA, NASA and M. Kornmesser

The close by planetary system is seen in beautiful element

A brand new Webb House Telescope picture of the intense, close by star Fomalhaut reveals its planetary system in never-before-seen element, together with nested concentric rings of mud. These belts are probably carved out by the gravitational forces produced by embedded, invisible planets. Likewise, inside our photo voltaic system,

Jupiter is the biggest planet within the photo voltaic system and the fifth planet from the solar. It’s a gasoline large with a mass higher than all the opposite planets mixed. Its identify comes from the Roman god Zeus.

“data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{” attribute=””>Jupiter corrals the asteroid belt of leftover debris that lies between us and the giant planet. Astronomers first discovered Fomalhauts disk in 1983. But there has never been a view as spectacular or as revealing as Webbs.

Fomalhaut Dusty Debris Disk (Webb MIRI Image)

This image of the dusty debris disk surrounding the young star Fomalhaut is from Webbs Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). It reveals three nested belts extending out to 14 billion miles (23 billion kilometers) from the star. The inner belts which had never been seen before were revealed by Webb for the first time. The Hubble Space Telescope and Herschel Space Observatory, as well as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), have previously taken sharp images of the outermost belt. However, none of them found any structure interior to it. These belts most likely are carved by the gravitational forces produced by unseen planets. Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Andrs Gspr (University of Arizona), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Webb Space Telescope Looks for Fomalhauts Asteroid Belt and Finds Much More

Astronomers used

Hubble, ALMA, and Webb are tag-teaming to assemble a holistic view of the debris disks around a number of stars. With Hubble and ALMA, we were able to image a bunch of Kuiper Belt analogs, and weve learned loads about how outer disks form and evolve, said Wolff. But we need Webb to allow us to image a dozen or so asteroid belts elsewhere. We can learn just as much about the inner warm regions of these disks as Hubble and ALMA taught us about the colder outer regions.

Fomalhaut Dusty Debris Disk (Webb MIRI Compass Image)

This image of the Fomalhaut system, captured by Webbs Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), shows compass arrows, scale bar, and color key for reference. Labels indicate the various structures. At right, a great dust cloud is highlighted and pullouts show it in two infrared wavelengths: 23 and 25.5 microns.
The north and east compass arrows show the orientation of the image on the sky. Note that the relationship between north and east on the sky (as seen from below) is flipped relative to direction arrows on a map of the ground (as seen from above).
The scale bar is labeled in astronomical units, which is the average distance between the Earth and the Sun, or 93 million miles. The outer ring is about 240 astronomical units in diameter.
This image shows invisible mid-infrared wavelengths of light that have been translated into visible-light colors. The color key and labels show which MIRI filters were used when collecting the light.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Andrs Gspr (University of Arizona), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

These belts most likely are carved by the gravitational forces produced by unseen planets. Similarly, inside our solar system Jupiter corrals the asteroid belt, the inner edge of the Kuiper Belt is sculpted by Neptune, and the outer edge could be shepherded by as-yet-unseen bodies beyond it. As Webb images more systems, we will learn about the configurations of their planets.

Fomalhauts dust ring was discovered in 1983 in observations made by NASAs Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS). The existence of the ring has also been inferred from previous and longer-wavelength observations using submillimeter telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii, NASAs Spitzer Space Telescope, and Caltechs Submillimeter Observatory.

The belts around Fomalhaut are kind of a mystery novel: Where are the planets? said George Rieke, another team member and U.S. science lead for Webbs Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which made these observations. I think its not a very big leap to say theres probably a really interesting planetary system around the star.

We definitely didnt expect the more complex structure with the second intermediate belt and then the broader asteroid belt, added Wolff. That structure is very exciting because any time an astronomer sees a gap and rings in a disk, they say, There could be an embedded planet shaping the rings!

Webb also imaged what Gspr dubs the great dust cloud that may be evidence of a collision occurring in the outer ring between two protoplanetary bodies. This is a different feature from a suspected planet first seen inside the outer ring by Hubble in 2008. Subsequent Hubble observations showed that by 2014 the object had vanished. A plausible interpretation is that this newly discovered feature, like the earlier one, is an expanding cloud of very fine dust particles from two icy bodies that smashed into each other.

The idea of a protoplanetary disk around a star goes back to the late 1700s when astronomers Immanuel Kant and Pierre-Simon Laplace independently developed the theory that the Sun and planets formed from a rotating gas cloud that collapsed and flattened due to gravity. Debris disks develop later, following the formation of planets and dispersal of the primordial gas in the systems. They show that small bodies like asteroids are colliding catastrophically and pulverizing their surfaces into huge clouds of dust and other debris. Observations of their dust provide unique clues to the structure of an exoplanetary system, reaching down to earth-sized planets and even asteroids, which are much too small to see individually.

The teams results were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Reference: Spatially resolved imaging of the inner Fomalhaut disk using JWST/MIRI by Andrs Gspr, Schuyler Grace Wolff, George H. Rieke, Jarron M. Leisenring, Jane Morrison, Kate Y. L. Su, Kimberly Ward-Duong, Jonathan Aguilar, Marie Ygouf, Charles Beichman, Jorge Llop-Sayson and Geoffrey Bryden, 8 May 2023, Nature Astronomy.
DOI: 10.1038/s41550-023-01962-6

The James Webb Space Telescope is the worlds premier space science observatory. The Fomalhaut observations utilized the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which was contributed by NASA and ESA (

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