The asteroid belt around Vega suggests hidden planets

LONG BEACH, Calif. — Astronomers have discovered a giant asteroid belt surrounding the bright star Vega, a find that could ultimately reveal an entire solar system of planets, scientists say.

Vega is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and is located about 25 light years from Earth. He rose to fame as the fictional source of an extraterrestrial signal in famed astronomer Carl Sagan’s science fiction novel “Contact,” which was adapted into a film starring Jodie Foster.

The new layout of the star’s asteroid belt suggests that Vega is surrounded by an icy outer belt of asteroids, as well as a warm inner rocky belt, researchers said. Their presence is also a hint that Vega may be surrounded by several undiscovered planets, they added.

Astronomers made the new Vega discovery using NASA’s Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope and the European Space Agency’s Herschel Space Observatory. They found that the hot inner Vega asteroid belt is separated from the cooler rocky ring of outer space by a wide gap. [Solar System’s Asteroid Belt Explained Infographic)]

Astronomers have discovered what appears to be a large asteroid belt around the bright star Vega, shown here at left in brown. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The arrangement of the twin belts makes Vega resemble our own solar system, which contains both the Kuiper belt and the asteroid belt. The findings are also similar to recently discovered belts around another star called Fomalhaut.

“Our findings echo recent findings showing that multi-planet systems are common beyond our sun,” said Kate Su, an astronomer at the University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory.

Su unveiled the new findings here on Tuesday (January 8) at the annual meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

“Overall, the large gap between the hot and cold belts is a panel that points to several planets likely orbiting Vega and Fomalhaut,” Su said.

For Vega and Fomalhaut, the outer asteroid belt is 10 times farther from the star than the inner belt, suggesting that multiple planets of Jupiter size or smaller orbit may exist between the two bands, sweeping their eye sockets of dust and debris. , the researchers explained.

The asteroid belts around the two stars are filled with far more debris than that of Earth’s solar system belt, likely because the stars are younger than the sun and have had less time to clear this dust. Both star systems also likely started out with more dust, the researchers said.

Su and his colleagues discovered the alien asteroid belts around Vega because collisions between comets and space rocks create dust, which then emits infrared light picked up by the Spitzer and Herschel observatories.

If there are any unseen planets orbiting Vega, astronomers are confident they won’t stay hidden forever.

“New upcoming facilities such as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope should be able to find the planets,” said paper co-author Karl Stapelfeldt, head of the Exoplanet and Stellar Astrophysics Laboratory. at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. declaration.

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