NASA model reveals planet making waves around debris disk

Washington, June 26 (IANS) Giving an insight into the evolution of a young planetary system, a NASA supercomputer simulation of the planet and debris disk around star Beta Pictoris reveals that the planet’s motion drives spiral waves throughout the disk.

The phenomenon causes collisions among the orbiting debris which is a circumstellar disk of dust and debris in orbit around a star.

Patterns in the collisions and the resulting dust appear to account for many observed features that previous research could not explain, NASA said in a statement.

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

“This is the first full 3-D model of a debris disk 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.

In 1984, Beta Pictoris became the second star known to be surrounded by a bright disk of dust and debris.

Located only 63 light-years away, Beta Pictoris is an estimated 21 million years old or less than one percent the age of our solar system.

The disk, which we see edge on, contains rock and ice fragments ranging in size from objects larger than houses to grains as small as smoke particles.

It is a younger version of the Kuiper belt at the fringes of our own planetary system.

“One of the nagging questions about Beta Pictoris is how the planet ended up in such an odd orbit.”

“Our simulation suggests it arrived there about 10 million years ago, possibly after interacting with other planets orbiting the star that we have not detected yet.”

The study is due to be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

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