Astronomers have discovered 30 comets in one fell swoop in the Beta Pictoris star system, about 63 light-years from Earth. The outer comets are said to be about the same size as the comets in our solar system – an indication that similar processes are at work in forming comets. This team, led by Alain Lecavelier des Etangs from the Sorbonne University in Paris, writes In “Science Reports” .
The researchers used the TESS space telescope to search for comets. They analyzed data collected by TESS from Beta Pictoris between 2019 and 2021. They identified a total of 30 exocomets that left their mark in the star’s light. Its brightness changes slightly when a comet with a dusty tail passes in front of it.
Based on these small opacities, the researchers were able to infer the size of the outer qubits. Therefore the cores of exocomets should have a diameter of 3 to 14 kilometers. A similar size distribution can also be found in comets in our solar system. This, in turn, will lead to the conclusion, according to the research team, that all these celestial bodies were formed in a similar way – that is, through collisions and disintegration of larger bodies.
Beta Pictoris itself is relatively young at about 20 million years as the second brightest star in the constellation Painter. Therefore, the second brightest star in the constellation Painter is still surrounded by a gas and dust disk containing at least two planets. What is very practical about this star system for astronomy is its geometry: as seen from Earth, it appears almost completely sideways. This means that astronomers can easily observe objects that pass in front of this star, including comets. Celestial bodies reveal themselves through a trail of gas and dust that develops as they approach their star and is thus heated up. Because the star’s own light changes in this way, researchers can indirectly infer comets – even though they themselves are not visible from Earth.
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