Astronomers using the Gemini South 8-meter telescope in Chile have observed new details in the dusty disk surrounding the nearby star Beta Pictoris which show that a large collision between planetary-sized bodies may have occurred there as recently as the past few decades.
The mid-infrared observations provide the best evidence yet for the occurrence of energetic encounters between planetesimals (small bodies formed of rock or ice) during the process of planetary formation. Amazingly, the observations even allow speculation as to when the event might have happened.
"It is as if we were looking back about 5 billion years and watching our own solar system as it was forming into what we see today," said Dr. Charlie Telesco of the University of Florida who led the team. "Our research is a bit like a detective dusting for fingerprints to figure out a crime scene, only in this case we use the dust as a tracer to show what has happened within the cloud. The properties of the dust show not only that this was a huge collision, but that it probably happened recently in both astronomical and even on human timescales."
Julia Maddock | alfa
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