Webb telescope reveals asteroid collision in neighboring star system | Science & Technology

Astronomers have captured what appears to be a snapshot of a massive collision of giant asteroids in Beta Pictoris, a neighboring star system known for its early age and tumultuous planet-forming activity.

The observations spotlight the volatile processes that shape star systems like our own, offering a unique glimpse into the primordial stages of planetary formation.

“Beta Pictoris is at an age when planet formation in the terrestrial planet zone is still ongoing through giant asteroid collisions, so what we could be seeing here is basically how rocky planets and other bodies are forming in real time,” said Christine Chen, a Johns Hopkins University astronomer who led the research.

The insights will be presented today at the 244th Meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, Wisconsin.

Chen’s team spotted significant changes in the energy signatures emitted by dust grains around Beta Pictoris by comparing new data from the James Webb Space Telescope with observations by the Spitzer Space Telescope from 2004 and 2005. With Webb’s detailed measurements, the team tracked the dust particles’ composition and size in the exact area previously analyzed by Spitzer.

Focusing on heat emitted by crystalline silicates — minerals commonly found around young stars as well as on Earth and other celestial bodies — the scientists found no traces of the particles previously seen in 2004-05. This suggests a cataclysmic collision occurred among asteroids and other objects about 20 years ago, pulverizing the bodies into fine dust particles smaller than pollen or powdered sugar, Chen said.

“We think all that dust is what we saw initially in the Spitzer data from 2004 and 2005,” said Chen, who is also an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. “With Webb’s new data, the best explanation we have is that, in fact, we witnessed the aftermath of an infrequent, cataclysmic event between large asteroid-size bodies, marking a complete change in our understanding…

Source www.sciencedaily.com

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