Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


UA Astronomers Witness Asteroid Smashup


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. 


George Rieke


Kate Su


For images, please contact:

Whitney Clavin

Jet Propulsion Laboratory


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 Move over, lasers: Scientists can now create holograms from neutrons, too
21.10.2016 | National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

nachricht Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus
20.10.2016 | The Henryk Niewodniczanski Institute of Nuclear Physics Polish Academy of Sciences

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: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

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

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

New method increases energy density in lithium batteries

24.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

International team discovers novel Alzheimer's disease risk gene among Icelanders

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

New bacteria groups, and stunning diversity, discovered underground

24.10.2016 | Life Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>