Webb Telescope to explore a neighboring, dusty planetary system

Researchers will use NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope to study Beta Pictoris, an intriguing young planetary system that sports at least two planets, a jumble of smaller, rocky bodies, and a dusty disk. Their goals include gaining a better understanding of the structures and properties of the dust to better interpret what is happening in the system. Since it’s only about 63 light-years away and chock full of dust, it appears bright in infrared light – and that means there is a lot of information for Webb to gather.

Beta Pictoris is the target of several planned Webb observing programs, including one led by Chris Stark of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and two led by Christine Chen of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland. Stark’s program will directly image the system after blocking the light of the star to gather a slew of new details about its dust. Chen’s programs will gather spectra, which spread light out like a rainbow to reveal which elements are present. All three observing programs will add critical details to what’s known about this nearby system.

First, a Review of What We Know
Beta Pictoris has been regularly studied in radio, infrared, and visible light since the 1980s. The star itself is twice as massive as our Sun and quite a bit hotter, but also significantly younger. (The Sun is 4.6 billion years old, but Beta Pictoris is approximately 20 million years old.) At this stage, the star is stable and hosts at least two planets, which are both far more massive than Jupiter. But this planetary system is remarkable because it is where the first exocomets (comets in other systems) were discovered. There are quite a lot of bodies zipping around this system!

Like our own solar system, Beta Pictoris has a debris disk, which includes comets, asteroids, rocks of various sizes, and plenty of dust in all shapes that orbit the star. (A debris disk is far younger and can be more massive than our solar system’s Kuiper Belt, which begins near Neptune’s orbit and is where many short-period comets originate.)

This outside ring of dust and debris is also where a lot of activity is happening. Pebbles and boulders could be colliding and breaking into far smaller pieces – sending out plenty of dust.

Scrutinizing This Planetary System
Stark’s team will use Webb’s coronagraphs, which block the light of the star, to observe the faint portions of the debris disk that surround the entire system. “We know there are two massive planets around Beta Pictoris, and farther out there is a belt of small bodies that are colliding and fragmenting,” Stark explained. “But what’s in between? How similar is this system to our solar system? Can dust and water ice from the outer belt eventually make its way into the inner region of the system? Those are details we can help tease out with Webb.”

Webb’s imagery will allow the researchers to study how the small dust grains interact with planets that are present in that system. Plus, Webb will detail all the fine dust that streams off these objects, permitting the researchers to infer the presence of larger rocky bodies and what their distribution is in the system. They’ll also carefully assess how the dust scatters light and reabsorbs and reemits light when it’s warm, allowing them to constrain what the dust is made of. By cataloging the specifics of Beta Pictoris, the researchers will also assess how similar this system is to our solar system, helping us understand if the contents of our solar system are unique.

Isabel Rebollido, a team member and postdoctoral researcher at STScI, is already building complex models of Beta Pictoris. The first model combines existing data about the system, including radio, near-infrared, far-infrared, and visible light from both space- and ground-based observatories. In time, she will add Webb’s imagery to run a fuller analysis.

The second model will feature only Webb’s data – and will be the first they explore. “Is the light Webb will observe symmetrical?” Rebollido asked. “Or are there ‘bumps’ of light here and there because there is an accumulation of dust? Webb is far more sensitive than any other space telescope and gives us a chance to look for this evidence, as well as water vapor where we know there’s gas.”

Dust as a Decoder Ring
Think of the debris disk of Beta Pictoris as a very busy, elliptical highway – except one where there aren’t many traffic rules. Collisions between comets and larger rocks can produce fine dust particles that subsequently scatter throughout the system.

“After planets, most of the mass in the Beta Pictoris system is thought to be in smaller planetesimals that we can’t directly observe,” Chen explained. “Fortunately, we can observe the dust left behind when planetesimals collide.”

This dust is where Chen’s team will focus its research. What do the smallest dust grains look like? Are they compact or fluffy? What are they made of?

“We’ll analyze Webb’s spectra to map the locations of dust and gas – and figure out what their detailed compositions are,” Chen explained. “Dust grains are ‘fingerprints’ of planetesimals we can’t see directly and can tell us about what these planetesimals are made of and how they formed.” For example, are the planetesimals ice-rich like comets in our solar system? Are there signs of high-speed collisions between rocky planetesimals? Clearly analyzing if grains in one region are more solid or fluffy than another will help the researchers understand what is happening to the dust, and map out the subtle differences in the dust in each region.

“I’m looking forward to analyzing Webb’s data since it will provide exquisite detail,” added Cicero X. Lu, a team member and a fourth-year Ph.D. student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Webb will allow us to identify more elements and pinpoint their precise structures.”

In particular, there’s a cloud of carbon monoxide at the edge of the disk that greatly interests these researchers. It’s asymmetric and has an irregular, blobby side. One theory is that collisions released dust and gas from larger, icy bodies to form this cloud. Webb’s spectra will help them build scenarios that explain its origin.


Japan travel news, japan travel guides, japan holiday destinations and japan reviews

LATEST NEWS

NEWS RELATED

D-Orbit completes deployment phase of WILD RIDE space mission

D-Orbit, the space logistics and transportation company, announced that it has successfully completed the deployment phase of its WILD RIDE mission. As part of this phase, D-Orbit’s ION Satellite Carrier (ION), the company’s proprietary space transportation vehicle, successfully deployed all six satellites hosted onboard and will now proceed with the…

Read more: D-Orbit completes deployment phase of WILD RIDE space mission

Facebook assembles team to build 'metaverse'

Facebook on Monday said it was combining specialists from across its hardware, gaming and virtual reality units to build an immersive digital world known as the “metaverse.” The “metaverse,” a term coined by sci-fi writer Neal Stephenson, refers to a shared online world in which multiple users can hang out,…

Read more: Facebook assembles team to build 'metaverse'

Galileo Project to search for ET artifacts in galactic space

The multi-institutional, international Galileo Project founders, research team and advisory boards, in conjunction with the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard and Smithsonian, today announce the Galileo Project . It is a transparent scientific project to advance a systematic experimental search for cross-validated evidence of potential astroarcheological artifacts or active technical…

Read more: Galileo Project to search for ET artifacts in galactic space

How Chinese astronauts stay healthy in space

Three Chinese astronauts have been living and working in China’s space station core module Tianhe for more than a month. They are scheduled to stay in space for three months. The astronauts have been exercising, maintaining healthy diets and undergoing regular check-ups to reduce the effects of living in a…

Read more: How Chinese astronauts stay healthy in space

Hubble finds first evidence of water vapor on Ganymede

For the first time, astronomers have uncovered evidence of water vapor in the atmosphere of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede. This water vapor forms when ice from the moon’s surface sublimates – that is, turns from solid to gas. Scientists used new and archival datasets from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to make…

Read more: Hubble finds first evidence of water vapor on Ganymede

MDA awarded next contract for flagship Canadarm3 Program

MDA Ltd. has been awarded a $35.3 million contract from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) for the design of the Gateway External Robotics Interfaces (GERI), a key component of Canadarm3 which will be installed on the international Lunar Gateway. MDA has completed Phase A, the system definition phase of this…

Read more: MDA awarded next contract for flagship Canadarm3 Program

NASA's Fermi Spots a Supernova's 'Fizzled' Gamma-ray Burst

Greenbelt MD (SPX) Jul 27, 2021 On Aug. 26, 2020, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected a pulse of high-energy radiation that had been racing toward Earth for nearly half the present age of the universe. Lasting only about a second, it turned out to be one for the record…

Read more: NASA's Fermi Spots a Supernova's 'Fizzled' Gamma-ray Burst

Progress 77 and Pirs undocked from Station

The unpiloted Russian Progress 77 cargo spacecraft undocked from the International Space Station while attached to the Pirs docking compartment at 6:55 a.m. EDT. The spacecraft will reenter Earth’s atmosphere and harmlessly burn up over the south Pacific. The mission launched and docked to the space station in February delivering…

Read more: Progress 77 and Pirs undocked from Station

Space food costs are out of this world

What you need to know about Starliner's Test-2

China's carbon-monitoring satellite reports global carbon net of six gigatons

Google parent launches new 'moonshot' for robotics software

Great Barrier Reef avoids UNESCO 'in danger' listing

AI helps improve NASA's eyes on the Sun

Antimatter from laser pincers

China launches home-grown aeronautic remote-sensing system

OTHER NEWS