Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Hubble Reveals Rogue Planetary Orbit for Fomalhaut b

11.01.2013
Newly released Hubble Space Telescope images of a vast debris disk encircling the nearby star Fomalhaut, and of a mysterious planet circling it, may provide forensic evidence of a titanic planetary disruption in the system.

Astronomers are surprised to find that the debris belt is wider than previously known, spanning a gulf of space from 14 billion miles to nearly 20 billion miles from the star. Even more surprisingly, the latest Hubble images have allowed a team of astronomers to calculate that the planet follows an unusual elliptical orbit that carries it on a potentially destructive path through the vast dust ring.


NASA, ESA, and P. Kalas (University of California, Berkeley and SETI Institute)

Rogue Planetary Orbit for Fomalhaut b This false-color composite image, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals the orbital motion of the planet Fomalhaut b. Based on these observations, astronomers calculated that the planet is in a 2,000-year-long, highly elliptical orbit. The planet will appear to cross a vast belt of debris around the star roughly 20 years from now. If the planet's orbit lies in the same plane with the belt, icy and rocky debris in the belt could crash into the planet's atmosphere and produce various phenomena. The black circle at the center of the image blocks out the light from the bright star, allowing reflected light from the belt and planet to be photographed. The Hubble images were taken with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph in 2010 and 2012.

The planet, called Fomalhaut b, swings as close to its star as 4.6 billion miles, and the outermost point of its orbit is 27 billion miles away from the star. The orbit was re-calculated from the newest Hubble observation made in 2012. "We are shocked -- Fomalhaut b probably passed three times closer to the star than we previously thought, and now it is zipping outward," said Paul Kalas of the University of California at Berkeley and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

The Fomalhaut team led by Kalas considers this circumstantial evidence that there may be other planet-like bodies in the system that gravitationally disturbed Fomalhaut b to place it in such a highly eccentric orbit.

His team is presenting their finding on January 8 at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif.

Among several scenarios to explain Fomalhaut b's 2,000-year-long orbit is the hypothesis that an as yet undiscovered planet gravitationally ejected Fomalhaut b from a position closer to the star, and sent it flying into an orbit that extends beyond the dust belt. "Hot Jupiters get tossed through scattering events, where one planet goes in and one gets thrown out. This could be the planet that gets thrown out," according to co-investigator Mark Clampin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Hubble also found that the dust and ice belt encircling Fomalhaut (the star) has an apparent gap slicing across the belt. This might have been carved out by another undetected planet, researchers said. "Hubble's exquisite view of the dust belt shows irregularities that strongly motivate a search for other planets in the system," Kalas said.

"If its orbit lies in the same plane with the dust belt, then Fomalhaut b will intersect the belt around 2032 on the outbound leg of its orbit. During the crossing, icy and rocky debris in the belt could crash into the planet's atmosphere and create the type of cosmic fireworks seen when comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter," Kalas said. "But if Fomalhaut b is not co-planar with the belt, we may not see anything at all except for a gradual dimming of Fomalhaut b as it travels farther and farther from the star," he explained.

Kalas hypothesized that Fomalhaut b's extreme orbit is a major clue in explaining why the planet is unusually bright in visible light but very dim in infrared light. The planet could be between the mass of Pluto and Jupiter, but the optical brightness possibly originates from a ring or shroud of dust around the planet, reflecting starlight. The dust is rapidly produced by satellites orbiting the planet, which suffer extreme erosion by impacts and gravitational stirring when Fomalhaut b enters into the planetary system after a millennium of deep freeze beyond the main belt. "An analogy can be found by looking at Saturn, which has a tenuous but very large dust ring produced when meteoroids hit the outer moon called Phoebe," Kalas said.

The team has also considered a different scenario where a hypothetical second dwarf planet suffered a catastrophic collision with Fomalhaut b. Kalas explained, "The collision scenario would provide a solution as to why Fomalhaut (the star) has a narrow outer belt linked to an extreme planet. But in this case the belt is young, less than 10,000 years old, and it is difficult to produce energetic collisions far from the star in such young systems."

Two previous papers have confirmed Fomalhaut b's existence as derived in the previous Hubble observations.

"Fomalhaut is a rather special system because it looks like we have a snapshot of what our solar system was doing 4 billion years ago," Kalas said. "The planetary architecture is being redrawn, the comet belts are evolving, and planets may be gaining and losing their moons." Astronomers will continue monitoring Fomalhaut b for decades to come because they may have a chance to observe a planet entering an icy debris belt that is like the Kuiper Belt at the fringe of our own solar system.

For more information and related images, visit:

http://hubblesite.org/news/2013/01

http://www.nasa.gov

The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., conducts Hubble science operations. STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc., in Washington.

Ray Villard | Newswise
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov
http://hubblesite.org/news/2013/01

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

nachricht Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's AIM observes early noctilucent ice clouds over Antarctica

05.12.2016 | Earth Sciences

Shape matters when light meets atom

05.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”

05.12.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>