The most recent glimpses into the cosmos looked at the dusty debris disks around other stars.
Most likely created by collisions between what’s left following planet formation, astronomers were able to eye these dusty disks with the help of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
They found the age of the star mattered little. These disks were imaged around stars as young as 10 million years old, to ancient ones clocking in at more than 1 billion years old.
“It’s like looking back in time to see the kinds of destructive events that once routinely happened in our solar system after the planets formed,” said survey leader Glenn Schneider.
These dusty disks were previously believed to have simple, flat structures. But, the team of astronomers found lots of diversity and complexity in the shape of the dust disks. “We find that the systems are not simply flat with uniform surfaces,” Schneider said.
What could cause the variety in structure of the disks? “Some of the substructures could be signposts of unseen planets,” Schneider said.
HD 181327, pictured below, appears to show the aftermath of a massive collision between two bodies.
Such a collision was described by co-investigator, Christopher Stark, as “very rare.”
There is another potential explanation. The shape of the dusty disk could be influenced by the star’s trek through interstellar space as it interacts with some unseen material or force. “Either way, the answer is exciting,” Schneider said.
The survey provides astronomers with unique insights about our own solar system. The potential collision at HD 181327 could hint at how our Earth-moon system was created.
It also proves that space continues to be awesome. It’s hard to even wrap our minds around what we know, much less the what we don’t.
Schneider and his fellow astronomers detailed their findings in The Astronomical Journal.