28Jun2015

NASA Exo-Planet Study Shows Debris Disc Ring

Picture for representation

The supercomputer simulation of the planet and debris disc around Beta Pictoris

An incredible new computer simulation by NASA shows the planet and debris disc around the nearby star Beta Pictoris in motion. We are in effect watching the birth of another solar system.

The supercomputer simulation of the planet and debris disc around Beta Pictoris shows that the planet’s motion drives spiral waves throughout the disc, a phenomenon that causes collisions among the orbiting debris.

“We essentially created a vitual Beta Pictoris in the computer and watched it evolve over millions of years,” said Erika Nesvold, an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who co-developed the simulation.

“This is the first full 3-D model of a debris disc where we can watch the development of asymmetric features formed by planets, like warps and eccentric rings, and also track collisions among the particles at the same time,” Nesvold said.

Various planet formation processes, including exocomets and other planetesimals, around Beta Pictoris, a very young type A V star (NASA artist’s conception)

In 1984, Beta Pictoris became the second star known to be surrounded by a bright disc of dust and debris. Located only 63 light-years away, Beta Pictoris is estimated to be 21 million years old, or less than 1 per cent the age of our solar system.

In 2009, astronomers confirmed the existence of Beta Pictoris b, a planet with an estimated mass of about nine times Jupiter’s, in the debris disc around Beta Pictoris. Travelling along a tilted and slightly elongated 20-year orbit, the planet stays about as far away from its star as Saturn does from our Sun.

Astronomers have struggled to explain various features seen in the disc, including a warp apparent at submillimetre wavelengths, an X-shaped pattern visible in scattered light, and vast clumps of carbon monoxide gas. A common ingredient in comets, carbon monoxide molecules are destroyed by ultraviolet starlight in a few hundred years.

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt.

“Our simulation suggests many of these features can be readily explained by a pair of colliding spiral waves excited in the disc by the motion and gravity of Beta Pictoris b,” said Marc Kuchner, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt.

Running simulations using the Discover supercomputer operated by the NASA Centre for Climate Simulation at Goddard, researchers found that as the planet moves along its tilted path, it passes vertically through the disc twice each orbit.

Its gravity excites a vertical spiral wave in the disc. Debris concentrates in the crests and troughs of the waves and collides most often there, which explains the X-shaped pattern seen in the dust and may help explain the carbon monoxide clumps.   Source: India Today

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