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Space & Astronomy

Solving the mystery of the vanishing exoplanet

By T.K. Randall
April 21, 2020 · Comment icon 17 comments

Image Credit: NASA / ESA / Digitized Sky Survey 2 / Davide De Martin / Hubble
A relatively nearby extrasolar world discovered back in 2004 has since disappeared without a trace.
Situated 25 light years away, the planet Fomalhaut b was discovered quite unexpectedly by astronomer Paul Kalas and colleagues from the University of California, Berkeley.

The find was particularly unusual because Kalas had been able to directly observe it - something that happens only very rarely because extrasolar worlds are so much dimmer than the stars they orbit.

It soon became apparent that there was something very strange indeed about Fomalhaut b when the astronomers found that while they could observe it in visible light, they were unable to find the infrared signature typically associated with such a planet.

A few years later things became even weirder still when University of Arizona astronomer Andras Gaspar and colleague George Rieke determined that Fomalhaut b was getting dimmer over time.

By 2014 - ten years after it was originally discovered - the planet had disappeared entirely.
So where did it go ?

Now a new study has finally shed light on the mystery by suggesting that Fomalhaut b wasn't actually a planet at all - it was the lingering light left over from a collision between two large asteroids.

"Our modeling shows the observed characteristics agree with a model of an expanding dust cloud produced in a massive collision," said Gaspar.

According to Kalas, such collisions may only occur once every 100,000 years.

"Was I really the luckiest astronomer in the world when I pointed the Hubble Space Telescope at Fomalhaut back in 2004 ?" he said.

"If I had tried just a few years earlier or a few years later, I never would have discovered it."

Source: CNET.com | Comments (17)

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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #8 Posted by Damien99 4 years ago
So is the star still there?  and just the planet missing  i was led to the impression  Fomalhaut A and B are stars. Fomalhaut a and b are planets. (Well, b is apparently not a planet.) The article is about Fomalhaut b "disappearing" (not being a planet in the first place). Fomalhaut B is still there.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Cookie Monster 4 years ago
We cannot see the planets, their existence is inferred from the stars wobble and light dimming. The problem is the brightness of stars stops is directly see what is orbiting them. It might have 2 planets, it might have none, it might have 50, we are making an educated guess. As its an educated guess there will be mistakes.
Comment icon #10 Posted by Damien99 4 years ago
Ok so the planet may have vanished but is the star still there 
Comment icon #11 Posted by Cookie Monster 4 years ago
Comment icon #12 Posted by Damien99 4 years ago
Wierd , they are talking about a possible collision wonder how big the other object was to possibly destroy a Jupiter sized planet 
Comment icon #13 Posted by Cookie Monster 4 years ago
If its travelling fast then maybe something the size of the moon. I think its more likely that they have made a mistake.
Comment icon #14 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Of course the star is still there. There is nothing in the article to imply otherwise.  As I have already said, Fomalhaut a would not be a planet. Lower case "a" refers to the star(s). Planets are given a lower case letter in chronological order of discovery starting with "b".
Comment icon #15 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Not always true. Some exoplanets have been directly imaged. Whatever it was that was thought to be Fomalhaut by was discovered by being directly imaged.
Comment icon #16 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
The article doesn't say a Jupiter sized planet was destroyed. It says that what was thought to be a Jupiter sized planet may actually have been a collision between  two objects around 125 miles across.  Please Damien ask questions about what the article actually says not what you imagine it says. 
Comment icon #17 Posted by Damien99 4 years ago
My apologies they were talking about jupitorbsoze exoplanet

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