James Webb reveals a giant asteroid crashed into another system

James Webb reveals a giant asteroid crashed into another system
Photo: Daniel Cassetta

James Webb reveals a giant asteroid crashed into another system

Hey James Webb Telescope Scientists were surprised again. While observing the Beta Pictoris system, 63 light-years from Earth, the powerful observatory spotted evidence of what appears to have been a collision between two giant asteroids – in fact, one of them appears to have been. Bigger than the one that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs
!

Beta Pictoris is a young star surrounded by a disk of gas and dust, where a planetary system is forming. Therefore, it has become the target of many studies: in addition to the star providing a great opportunity to study how planets form, one of these young worlds has already been discovered.

Now that you know who the star is, let's take a short visit to the past. 20 years ago, Spitzer telescope He was monitoring dust grains around Beta Pictoris for heat emanating from silicate crystals, a mineral often found around young stars. At that time, there was no sign of anything indicating an asteroid collision.


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That's where the new study led by Christine Chen, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, comes in. By comparing the fingerprints of dust grains that Spitzer observed at the time with new data from James Webb, they found something interesting: there was a significant reduction in radiation at the wavelengths Spitzer saw.

This suggests that there was a severe collision between asteroids and other objects 20 years ago, which reduced the space rocks in question to dust. “We all think this dust is what we initially saw in the Spitzer data in 2004 and 2005,” Chen said. According to her, the best interpretation of Webb's new data is that it shows the result of the powerful Collision
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The new data indicates that the dust in the disk surrounding the star has been dispersed by its radiation and is no longer detectable. Previously, these particles were heated and emitted the radiation that Spitzer detected; But now the molecules have moved away and no longer have heat signatures.

When Spitzer collected the data, scientists thought about other space rocks that might provide dust particles there. But Webb showed that this was not the case: in fact, the dust disappeared and was not replaced. What's more: the amount of particles emitted is equivalent to an object 100,000 times larger than the body The asteroid that drove dinosaurs to extinction
.

“Most of James Webb's discoveries come from what the telescope detected directly,” noted Cicero Law, co-author of the new study. “In this case, the story is a bit different, because our results come from what James Webb did not see,” he concluded.

The results were presented during the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

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