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Exoplanet Around Beta Pictoris

This composite image represents the close environment of Beta Pictoris as seen in near infrared light. This very faint environment is revealed after a very careful subtraction of the much brighter stellar halo. The outer part of the image shows the reflected light on the dust disc, as observed in 1996 with the ADONIS instrument on ESO’s 3.6 m telescope; the inner part is the innermost part of the system, as seen at 3.6 microns with NACO on the Very Large Telescope. The newly detected source is more than 1000 times fainter than Beta Pictoris, aligned with the disc, at a projected distance of 8 times the Earth-Sun distance. This corresponds to 0.44 arcsecond on the sky, or the angle sustained by a one Euro coin seen at a distance of about 10 kilometres. Because the planet is still very young, it is still very hot, with a temperature around 1200 degrees Celsius. Both parts of the image were obtained on ESO telescopes equipped with adaptive optics.

Image: ESO/A.-M. Lagrange et al.

'Comet Graveyard' Discovered By Astronomers In Colombia

The asteroid belt has long been thought a dull place. But in recent years, astronomers have spotted objects that occasionally spew small amounts of water vapor or dust—possibly because they’ve recently collided with something else. Now, scientists propose that most if not all of these objects may be shedding dust or water vapor because they’re the barely active remnants of comets that are now largely bereft of surface ice. These objects—a total of 11 bodies, which the researchers dub asteroidal belt comets (ABCs)—are either close to the end of cometary life as we know it, or they’ve recently been reactivated because gravitational perturbations of Jupiter (large planet located outside the asteroid belt in each image) have nudged the bodies into orbits that now pass closer to the sun. Along parts of those new paths, heat can penetrate more deeply and reach ice previously insulated by a surface layer of dust (yielding a solar system that today looks like the artist’s representation at top).

On average, the surface layers of dust on those objects average at least 1.8 meters thick, the researchers report in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. But in the solar system’s early days, before surface ice evaporated from those bodies, comets were both more numerous and more active (bottom), the researchers contend. If that’s true, nighttime skies of the distant past must have been spectacular indeed.

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