Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

UA Astronomers Witness Asteroid Smashup

29.08.2014

Using data taken by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope, astronomers at the University of Arizona have spotted an eruption of dust around a young star, possibly the result of a smashup between large asteroids. This type of collision can eventually lead to the formation of terrestrial planets.

A few months after scientists began tracking the star, called NGC 2547-ID8, it surged with a huge amount of fresh dust between August 2012 and January 2013. 

"We think two big asteroids crashed into each other, creating a huge cloud of grains the size of very fine sand, which are now smashing themselves into smithereens and slowly leaking away from the star," said Huan Meng, the study's lead author and a graduate student in the UA Department of Planetary Sciences

This is the first time scientists have collected data before and after a planetary system smashup. The viewing offers a glimpse into the violent process of making rocky planets like Earth. 

Rocky planets begin life as dusty material circling around young stars. The material clumps together to form asteroids that occasionally run into each other. Although the asteroids often are destroyed, some grow over time and transform into proto-planets. After about 100 million years, the objects mature into full-grown, terrestrial planets. 

In the new study, Spitzer – which includes technology developed at the UA – set its heat-seeking infrared eyes on the dusty star NGC 2547-ID8, which is a solar-type star that is about 35 million years old and and lies 1,200 light-years away in the Vela constellation. Beginning in May 2012, the telescope began watching the star, sometimes daily. 

A dramatic change in the star came during a time when Spitzer had to point away from NGC 2547-ID8 because the sun was in the way. When Spitzer started observing the star again five months later, team members were shocked by the data they received. 

"We not only witnessed what appears to be the wreckage of a huge smashup, but have been able to track how it is changing – the signal is fading as the cloud destroys itself by grinding its grains down so they escape from the star," said Kate Su, an associate astronomer at the UA Department of Astronomy and Steward Observatory and co-author on the study. 

"We are watching rocky planet formation happen right in front of us," said George Rieke, a UA Regents' Professor of Astronomy who led one of the instrument-developing teams on the Spitzer telescope project and a co-author on the study. "This is a unique chance to study this process in near real time." 

Since terrestrial planet formation is a messy process that takes more than tens of millions of years, scientists rely on computer simulations to understand the process. The observations reported here open an avenue to compare those simulations with how it happens in the real world, Rieke said. 

After Spitzer's expected end of operations later this decade, astronomers will catch a glimpse of the dust around these stars with the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, currently under construction and planned for launch in late 2018. JWST, too, will use technology developed at the UA to observe the most distant objects in the universe: a mid-infrared-wavelength camera developed by Rieke and a near-infrared-wavelength camera developed by Regents' Professor of Astronomy Marcia Rieke, his wife. 

"Combining work with both telescopes over 20 to 25 years will provide us with a detailed look at how planets like Earth are assembled," Su said. 

The results of this study are posted online on the website of the journal Science. 

Contacts:

George Rieke

520-621-2832

grieke@as.arizona.edu

Kate Su

520-621-3445

ksu@as.arizona.edu

For images, please contact:

Whitney Clavin

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

818-354-4673

whitney.clavin@jpl.nasa.gov

George Rieke | University of Arizona

Further reports about: Arizona Asteroid Astronomy JWST NGC Observatory Space Telescope Witness asteroids terrestrial

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Theory of the strong interaction verified
27.03.2015 | Forschungszentrum Juelich

nachricht Dark matter even darker than once thought
27.03.2015 | ESA/Hubble Information Centre

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: Experiment Provides the Best Look Yet at 'Warm Dense Matter' at Cores of Giant Planets

In an experiment at the Department of Energy's SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, scientists precisely measured the temperature and structure of aluminum as...

Im Focus: Energy-autonomous and wireless monitoring protects marine gearboxes

The IPH presents a solution at HANNOVER MESSE 2015 to make ship traffic more reliable while decreasing the maintenance costs at the same time. In cooperation with project partners, the research institute from Hannover, Germany, has developed a sensor system which continuously monitors the condition of the marine gearbox, thus preventing breakdowns. Special feature: the monitoring system works wirelessly and energy-autonomously. The required electrical power is generated where it is needed – directly at the sensor.

As well as cars need to be certified regularly (in Germany by the TÜV – Technical Inspection Association), ships need to be inspected – if the powertrain stops...

Im Focus: 3-D satellite, GPS earthquake maps isolate impacts in real time

Method produced by UI researcher could improve reaction time to deadly, expensive quakes

When an earthquake hits, the faster first responders can get to an impacted area, the more likely infrastructure--and lives--can be saved.

Im Focus: Atlantic Ocean overturning found to slow down already today

The Atlantic overturning is one of Earth’s most important heat transport systems, pumping warm water northwards and cold water southwards. Also known as the Gulf Stream system, it is responsible for the mild climate in northwestern Europe. 

Scientists now found evidence for a slowdown of the overturning – multiple lines of observation suggest that in recent decades, the current system has been...

Im Focus: Robot inspects concrete garage floors and bridge roadways for damage

Because they are regularly subjected to heavy vehicle traffic, emissions, moisture and salt, above- and underground parking garages, as well as bridges, frequently experience large areas of corrosion. Most inspection systems to date have only been capable of inspecting smaller surface areas.

From April 13 to April 17 at the Hannover Messe (hall 2, exhibit booth C16), engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Nondestructive Testing IZFP will be...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

World Conference On Regenerative Medicine 2015: Registration And Abstract Submission Now Open

25.03.2015 | Event News

University presidents from all over the world meet in Hamburg

19.03.2015 | Event News

10. CeBiTec Symposium zum Big Data-Problem

17.03.2015 | Event News

 
Latest News

Two Most Destructive Termite Species Forming Superswarms in South Florida

27.03.2015 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

ORNL-Led Team Demonstrates Desalination with Nanoporous Graphene Membrane

27.03.2015 | Materials Sciences

Coorong Fish Hedge Their Bets for Survival

27.03.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>