NASA Captures First Image of Star’s Ring

An image of the debris surrounding Fomalhaut | Image by NASA, ESA, CSA, A. Gáspár (University of Arizona)

NASA’s James Webb Telescope has provided more profound insight into star formation.

NASA announced that the James Webb Telescope captured the first-ever image of a star’s inner debris ring during formation on May 9. This discovery grants a deeper understanding of star and solar system formation.

Researchers discovered this early development around a star known as Fomalhaut.

Fomalhaut is a young blue star visible to the naked eye in the constellation Piscis Austrinus. This star is nearly twice the size of the sun and sits about 25 light-years away from Earth.

Scientists in the study documenting the star postulated that collisions with other celestial bodies, such as asteroids and comets, formed the debris field surrounding the star. Researchers who previously documented the star using the Hubble Space Telescope, Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA), and the Herschel Space Observatory observed the outer structure around the star in detail but could not detect an inner layer.

Scientists observed what appears to be a protoplanetary disk in greater detail, complete with gaps and distinct belts.

Schuyler Wolff, a member of the latest research team, said the James Webb Telescope allowed scientists to view this inner layer by “resolving” the inner glow created by dust. Researchers initially discovered this dust field in 1983 with the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS).

“With Hubble and ALMA, we were able to image a bunch of Kuiper Belt analogs, and we’ve learned loads about how outer disks form and evolve,” said Wolff, according to NASA. “But we need Webb to allow us to image a dozen or so asteroid belts elsewhere. We can learn just as much about the inner warm regions of these disks as Hubble and ALMA taught us about the colder outer regions.”

Scientists theorize that undiscovered planets formed these belts. George Rieke, another team member, described the rings around the young star as a “mystery novel” as scientists search for these suspected planets.

“I think it’s not a very big leap to say there’s probably a really interesting planetary system around the star,” said Rieke, according to NASA.

Research continues on this developing planetary system.

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