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Rogue Planetary Orbit For Fomalhaut B

exoplanets fomalhaut b hubble nasa

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#1    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 12:51 AM

NASA's Hubble Reveals Rogue Planetary Orbit For Fomalhaut B



www.nasa.gov said:

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This false-color composite image, taken with the Hubble Space Telescope, reveals the orbital motion of the planet Fomalhaut b. Based on these observations, astronomers calculated that the planet is in a 2,000-year-long, highly elliptical orbit. The planet will appear to cross a vast belt of debris around the star roughly 20 years from now. If the planet's orbit lies in the same plane with the belt, icy and rocky debris in the belt could crash into the planet's atmosphere and produce various phenomena. The black circle at the center of the image blocks out the light from the bright star, allowing reflected light from the belt and planet to be photographed. The Hubble images were taken with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph in 2010 and 2012. Credit: NASA, ESA, and P. Kalas (University of California, Berkeley and SETI Institute)


Newly released NASA Hubble Space Telescope images of a vast debris disk encircling the nearby star Fomalhaut and a mysterious planet circling it may provide forensic evidence of a titanic planetary disruption in the system.

Astronomers are surprised to find the debris belt is wider than previously known, spanning a section of space from 14 to nearly 20 billion miles from the star. Even more surprisingly, the latest Hubble images have allowed a team of astronomers to calculate the planet follows an unusual elliptical orbit that carries it on a potentially destructive path through the vast dust ring.

The planet, called Fomalhaut b, swings as close to its star as 4.6 billion miles, and the outermost point of its orbit is 27 billion miles away from the star. The orbit was recalculated from the newest Hubble observation made last year.

"We are shocked. This is not what we expected," said Paul Kalas of the University of California at Berkeley and the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

The Fomalhaut team led by Kalas considers this circumstantial evidence there may be other planet-like bodies in the system that gravitationally disturbed Fomalhaut b to place it in such a highly eccentric orbit. The team presented its finding Tuesday at the 221st meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, Calif.

Among several scenarios to explain Fomalhaut b's 2,000-year-long orbit is the hypothesis that an as yet undiscovered planet gravitationally ejected Fomalhaut b from a position closer to the star, and sent it flying in an orbit that extends beyond the dust belt.

"Hot Jupiters get tossed through scattering events, where one planet goes in and one gets thrown out," said co-investigator Mark Clampin of NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "This could be the planet that gets thrown out."

Hubble also found the dust and ice belt encircling the star Fomalhaut has an apparent gap slicing across the belt. This might have been carved by another undetected planet. Hubble's exquisite view of the dust belt shows irregularities that strongly motivate a search for other planets in the system.

If its orbit lies in the same plane with the dust belt, then Fomalhaut b will intersect the belt around 2032 on the outbound leg of its orbit. During the crossing, icy and rocky debris in the belt could crash into the planet's atmosphere and create the type of cosmic fireworks seen when Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashed into Jupiter. Most of the fireworks from collisions will be seen in infrared light. However, if Fomalhaut b is not co-planar with the belt, the only thing to be seen will be a gradual dimming of Fomalhaut b as it travels farther from the star.

Kalas hypothesized that Fomalhaut b's extreme orbit is a major clue in explaining why the planet is unusually bright in visible light, but very dim in infrared light. It is possible the planet's optical brightness originates from a ring or shroud of dust around the planet, which reflects starlight. The dust would be rapidly produced by satellites orbiting the planet, which would suffer extreme erosion by impacts and gravitational stirring when Fomalhaut b enters into the planetary system after a millennium of deep freeze beyond the main belt. An analogy can be found by looking at Saturn, which has a tenuous, but very large dust ring produced when meteoroids hit the outer moon Phoebe.

The team has also considered a different scenario where a hypothetical second dwarf planet suffered a catastrophic collision with Fomalhaut b. The collision scenario would explain why the star Fomalhaut has a narrow outer belt linked to an extreme planet. But in this case the belt is young, less than 10,000 years old, and it is difficult to produce energetic collisions far from the star in such young systems.

Fomalhaut is a special system because it looks like scientists may have a snapshot of what our solar system was doing 4 billion years ago. The planetary architecture is being redrawn, the comet belts are evolving, and planets may be gaining and losing their moons. Astronomers will continue monitoring Fomalhaut b for decades to come because they may have a chance to observe a planet entering an icy debris belt that is like the Kuiper Belt at the fringe of our own solar system.

For more information and for related images, please visit:


http://www.nasa.gov/hubble
and
http://hubblesite.org/news/2013/01





RELEASE: 13-005

J.D. Harrington
Headquarters, Washington
202-358-5241
j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
410-338-4514
villard@stsci.edu



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#2    Imaginarynumber1

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 01:01 AM

That is such an amazing image. I cannot wait until we can image extra solar planets better.

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#3    DieChecker

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 05:23 AM

I agree, I had no idea that images from so far away could be to this resolution. From what I've heard we still can not image the landers on the moon, other then as 4 to 6 pixels.

Doesn't the ring kind of imply there are other large planets on the outside of the ring too? To have swept the debris into a ring would take planets on btoh sides right?

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#4    Waspie_Dwarf

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 10:50 AM

View PostDieChecker, on 09 January 2013 - 05:23 AM, said:

I agree, I had no idea that images from so far away could be to this resolution. From what I've heard we still can not image the landers on the moon, other then as 4 to 6 pixels.
That all depends on the size of the object, the distance of the object and how large a telescope you use. If you put Hubble in the same orbit as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter it would probably be able to image the foot prints. Besides you really need to look at the latest LRO images of the Apollo sites. They are imaging them in far higher quality then you think (most of those images are in the UM Gallery).

View PostDieChecker, on 09 January 2013 - 05:23 AM, said:

Doesn't the ring kind of imply there are other large planets on the outside of the ring too? To have swept the debris into a ring would take planets on btoh sides right?

Possibly, but not necessarily. Any disk is going to have an outer edge. It could just be that this is where that outer edge naturally occurs.

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#5    DieChecker

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 06:03 PM

View PostWaspie_Dwarf, on 09 January 2013 - 10:50 AM, said:

That all depends on the size of the object, the distance of the object and how large a telescope you use. If you put Hubble in the same orbit as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter it would probably be able to image the foot prints. Besides you really need to look at the latest LRO images of the Apollo sites. They are imaging them in far higher quality then you think (most of those images are in the UM Gallery).



Possibly, but not necessarily. Any disk is going to have an outer edge. It could just be that this is where that outer edge naturally occurs.

Cool. I'll check out some of the images.

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#6    Taun

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Posted 09 January 2013 - 06:44 PM

Very interesting article... thanx waspie...





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