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In a study published earlier this month in The Astrophysical Journal, a group of astronomers led by the University of Arizona reported when a debris cloud passed in front of its star and briefly blocked out the light, also called transits.
Using their knowledge of the star’s size, they were able to determine size From the cloud shortly after the impact, estimate the size of the objects that collided and note the speed with which the cloud disperses.
While retired astronomers using NASA Spitzer Space Telescope I’ve previously found evidence of these kinds of collisions around young stars that are rocky planets taking shape, and those notes didn’t provide much detail about the events.
Co-author George Rickey said in a statment. “All previously reported cases of Spitzer have not been resolved, with only theoretical hypotheses about the shape of the actual event and the debris cloud.”
The authors are beginning to make directional observations for a 10-million-year-old star called HD 166191 in 2015.
NASA said the team used the Spitzer Telescope to make more than 100 observations of the system over the next four years.
Around that time in a star’s life, the remaining dust from its formation combined to form minor planets.
As the gas that previously filled the void is scattered, catastrophic collisions between them are repeated.
These collisions produce large amounts of dust and the telescope detects infrared light, which is ideal for detecting this dust.
In 2018, the telescope saw the star system becoming brighter, which the agency said indicated an increase in its production of debris.
In addition, the telescope found a debris cloud obscuring the star.
The researchers found that the cloud was very rectangular, with an estimated area of at least three times the size of the star.
The telescope suggested that the debris spilled out hundreds of times larger than HD 166191.
To produce such a cloud, NASA said the colliding objects would have to be the size of world of dwarves.
By 2019, the cloud was no longer visible, but the star system contained twice as much dust as previously.
“By looking at dusty debris disks around young stars, we can look back in time and see the processes that may have shaped our solar system,” said lead researcher Kate Sue. “In learning about the outcome of collisions in these systems, we may also get a better idea of how frequently rocky planets form around other stars.”
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