Discovery of a "catastrophic" collision between huge asteroids Discovery of a "catastrophic" collision between huge asteroids

Discovery of a "catastrophic" collision between huge asteroids

Discovery of a "catastrophic" collision between huge asteroids
The James Webb Space Telescope revealed a collision between two asteroids orbiting Beta Pictoris, a star 63 light-years away from Earth, just 20 years ago.

Astronomers say that this “catastrophic” event crushed the two rocky bodies into fine dust particles “smaller than pollen or powdered sugar.”

Together, these dust particles are about 100,000 times the size of the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago.

Beta Pictoris, which has roughly twice the mass of the Sun and is more than eight times as bright, has long been of interest to astronomers because it is relatively new.

Scientists have already confirmed the existence of two gas planets, Beta Pictoris B and Beta Pictoris C, orbiting it, but no rocky planets have been discovered yet.

Twenty years ago, NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (now retired) observed a "huge amount of dust" around Beta Pictoris.

At the time, it was thought that the surrounding dust was caused by a continuous stream created by two small rocky bodies. But after studying the same area with the James Webb Telescope, Christine Chen, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, found that the dust had disappeared.

The research team believes that the massive collision between two asteroids led to the appearance of ultra-fine dust grains, which gradually spread into space.

“We think all this dust is what we initially saw in the Spitzer data from 2004 and 2005,” Chen said. “With the new Webb data, our best interpretation is that we saw the effects of a rare catastrophic event among large asteroid-sized objects.”

The results indicate that this distant system may be undergoing a similar planetary formation process that our solar system went through more than 4 billion years ago.

In modern solar systems such as Beta Pictoris, "early perturbation" can affect the atmosphere, water content and other key aspects of habitability, which could eventually develop on their planets.

The new ideas will be presented at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, Wisconsin.


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