Hubble Gets Best View of A Circumstellar Debris Disk Distorted By A Planet
Astronomers have used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to take the most detailed picture to date of a large, edge-on, gas-and-dust disk encircling the 20-million-year-old star Beta Pictoris.
Beta Pictoris remains the only directly imaged debris disk that has a giant planet (discovered in 2009). Because the orbital period is comparatively short (estimated to be between 18 and 22 years), astronomers can see large motion in just a few years. This allows scientists to study how the Beta Pictoris disk is distorted by the presence of a massive planet embedded within the disk.
The new visible-light Hubble image traces the disk in closer to the star to within about 650 million miles of the star (which is inside the radius of Saturn’s orbit about the Sun).
“Some computer simulations predicted a complicated structure for the inner disk due to the gravitational pull by the short-period giant planet. The new images reveal the inner disk and confirm the predicted structures. This finding validates models, which will help us to deduce the presence of other exoplanets in other disks,” said Daniel Apai of the University of Arizona. The gas-giant planet in the Beta Pictoris system was directly imaged in infrared light by the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope six years ago.