Webb telescope spots three debris belts around luminous star Fomalhaut
WASHINGTON — There has been plenty of excitement in recent decades about planets detected orbiting various stars beyond our solar system. But planets provide an incomplete picture of the complex framework that exists around stars, leaving out components like the belts of rocky and icy debris orbiting our sun.
Scientists on Monday unveiled observations by the James Webb Space Telescope showing new details about such features around a luminous star called Fomalhaut in our own neighborhood of the Milky Way galaxy. These observations of three concentric dusty rings of debris orbiting Fomalhaut provide the fullest view to date of such structures outside our solar system.
Fomalhaut, one of the brightest stars in our night sky and the brightest in the southern constellation Piscis Austrinus, is located 25 light years from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in a year, 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km).
Astronomers first discovered a single belt of debris around Fomalhaut in 1983. Webb’s observations revealed two additional rings nearer the star – a bright inner one and a narrow intermediate one.
These three belts appear to be populated by objects called planetesimals, some of which are thought to join together early in a star system’s history to form planets while others remain as debris like asteroids and comets.
“Much like our solar system, other planetary systems harbor disks of asteroids and comets – leftover planetesimals from the epoch of planet formation – that continuously grind themselves down to micron-sized particles via collisional interactions,” said University of Arizona astronomer Andras Gaspar, lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Fomalhaut is 16 times more luminous than the sun and almost twice as massive. It is about 440 million years old – less than a tenth the age of the sun – but is probably nearly halfway through its lifespan.
The three nested belts extend out to 14 billion miles (23 billion km) from Fomalhaut, about 150 times the distance of Earth to the sun.
While no planets have been discovered yet around Fomalhaut, the researchers suspect the belts were carved out by gravitational forces exerted by unseen planets. Our solar system has two such belts – the main asteroid belt between the rocky planet Mars and the gas giant Jupiter, and the Kuiper belt beyond the ice giant Neptune.
The gravitational influence of Jupiter, our solar system’s largest planet, corrals the main asteroid belt. The inner edge of the Kuiper belt, which is home to dwarf planets Pluto and Eris as well as other icy bodies of varying sizes, is shaped by the outermost planet Neptune.
“The secondary gap we see in the system is a strong indication for the presence of an ice giant in the system,” Gaspar said.
The observations from Webb, which was launched in 2021 and began collecting data last year, were made by its Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI).
“Nearly all of the resolved images of debris disks thus far had been for the cold, outer regions analogous to the solar system’s Kuiper belt,” like Fomalhaut’s outer belt, said astronomer and study co-author Schuyler Wolff of the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.
MIRI now can resolve the relatively warmer belts of material analogous to our main asteroid belt, Wolff said.
Studying these debris belts offers insight into planetary beginnings.
“Planets form within the primordial disks surrounding young stars. Understanding this formation process requires a complete understanding of how these disks form and evolve,” Wolff said.
“There are many open questions about how the dust in these disks coalesces to form planetary embryos, how the planetary atmospheres form, et cetera. Debris disks are remnants of this planet formation process and their structure can provide valuable clues to the underlying planet population and the dynamical histories,” Wolff added.
(Reporting by Will Dunham, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
How to watch the Axiom-2 mission depart from the ISS on Tuesday
This Tuesday, the crew of the second-ever all-private mission to the International Space Station will be returning to Earth. The Axiom 2 or Ax-2 mission launched last week and saw private astronauts Peggy Whitson, John Shoffner, Ali Alqarni, and Rayyanah Barnawi traveling to the ISS on a SpaceX Crew Dragon launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Now, the crew of four will be traveling back to Earth in the same Crew Dragon, and NASA will be livestreaming the departure of the spacecraft from the station. A separate stream will also be available showing the Crew Dragon splashing down off the coast of Florida. We’ve got the details on how to watch both below.
How to watch the mission departure
Coverage of the departure of the Crew Dragon from the ISS will begin at 9 a.m. ET (6 a.m. PT) on Tuesday, May 30. NASA will show a short introduction before the closing of the hatch of the station’s Harmony module at 9:10 a.m. ET (6:10 a.m. PT). There will then be a short break in coverage, which will resume at 10:45 a.m. ET (7:45 a.m. PT) to show the undocking of the Dragon at 11:05 a.m. ET (8:05 a.m. PT), with coverage ending 30 minutes after undocking.
You can watch the livestream of the hatch closing and the undocking on NASA’s YouTube channel, or by using the video embedded near the top of this page.
The crew will then travel back to Earth throughout Tuesday and into Wednesday, May 31. When the Crew Dragon is approaching Earth for splashdown, you’ll be able to tune into a livestream from Axiom Space. That will be available on Axiom’s website, but the company has not yet confirmed the exact time that coverage is expected to begin on Wednesday. You can find the latest updates on Axiom Twitter.
What to expect from the mission departure
The Ax-2 crew will have spent 10 days in space before heading home, and they will be bringing around 300 pounds of cargo back with them. The mission is notable for including the first two astronauts from Saudi Arabia, Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi, as well as famous American astronaut Peggy Whitson who has spent more days in space than any other American or any other woman.
Axiom Space launched its first private mission to the ISS in April last year, with a third mission planned for November this year and a fourth planned for 2024.
NASA's New Horizons Spacecraft Captures ''Heart-Shaped'' Glacier On Pluto's Surface – NDTV
Space agency NASA routinely captures stunning images of our universe, leaving space lovers mesmerized. On Sunday, NASA shared a stunning image on Instagram taken by its New Horizons spacecraft showing a heart-shaped glacier on Pluto’s surface. The heart-shaped region is known unofficially as Tombaugh Regio and is made of nitrogen and methane.
The image was captioned as ”Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Our New Horizons spacecraft captured this heart-shaped glacier. It lies on Pluto’s surface, which also features mountains, cliffs, valleys, craters, and plains, thought to be made of methane and nitrogen ice ”
See the image here:
It described the image as ”Pluto’s surface is marked with cracks and craters in shades of brown. The partially visible heart appears in the lower right of the small world, which is surrounded by black space.”
New Horizons launched in January 2006 and reached Pluto in July 2015, flying within 7,800 miles of its surface, and becoming the first probe to fly by Pluto and its moons. The far-traveling spacecraft also visited a distant Kuiper Belt object Ultima Thule (2014 MU69) in January 2019.
Instagram users loved the picture and shared a variety of comments. One user wrote, ”Wouahh what a great capture, thanks to New Horizon spacecraft.” Another commented, ”For me, Pluto will always be a planet.”
A third said, ”Why is Pluto, not a plane? it literally has a heart!” A fourth added, ”Being afar doesn’t mean you aren’t part of the family.”
Pluto was once considered the ninth planet in the solar system, however, it was demoted in 2006 and reclassified as a dwarf planet. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) downgraded the status of Pluto to that of a dwarf planet because it did not meet the three criteria the IAU uses to define a full-sized planet.
Pluto is slightly over 1,400 miles (2250 km) wide or about half the breadth of the United States or two-thirds the width of the Moon. With its average temperature of -387F (-232C) – Pluto’s surface is coated in ice made of water, methane, and nitrogen and is believed to have a rocky core and possibly a deep ocean.
This Week @NASA: Private Astronaut Mission, Autonomous Snake-Like Robot Explorer, TROPICS Launch – SciTechDaily
The second all-private astronaut mission to the space station …
Completing the set of tiny severe weather trackers …
And a robotic explorer – with a twist …
A few of the stories to tell you about – This Week at <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA!
Second Private Astronaut Mission to the Space Station
On May 21, a <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>SpaceX Dragon spacecraft launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Axiom Mission 2, the second all private astronaut mission to the International Space Station.
The four-person crew, commanded by former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, is scheduled to spend several days conducting research, outreach, and commercial activities on the space station.
Final Pair of Storm-Observing CubeSats Launched
The final two CubeSats for NASA’s TROPICS mission launched from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand on May 26. The small satellites will join two other identical spacecraft that launched to orbit earlier this month.
All four will fly, as a constellation, in a unique low Earth orbit that will allow them to observe tropical cyclones, including hurricanes and typhoons, more often than what is possible with
current weather satellites.
Autonomous Snake-Like Robotic Explorer
A team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is creating and testing a snake-like robot called EELS, short for Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor. The self-propelled, autonomous robot is
being developed to go where other robots can’t go.
Although it was inspired by a desire to look for signs of life in the sub-surface ocean on <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, EELS is not currently part of any NASA mission.
Artemis Rocket Engine Test Series Continues
On May 23, NASA’s Stennis Space Center conducted a hot fire test of an RS-25 rocket engine. It was the eighth hot fire of the current 12-test series to certify production of new RS-25s.
Four of the engines will help power NASA’s Space Launch System rocket on future Artemis missions to the Moon.
That’s what’s up this week @NASA.
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