Gigantic asteroid belt discovered near Vega; It may hold undiscovered planets


By Sarah Rich, The Space Reporter | January 09, 2013

Gigantic asteroid belt discovered near Vega; It may hold undiscovered planets

A new asteroid belt has been discovered?

If astronomers’ hunches about a recently discovered asteroid belt are correct, one of the brightest stars in our sky may support its own collection of planets.

Using NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and ESA’s Herschel Space Observatory, astronomers have discovered a giant asteroid belt around Vega. The fifth-biggest star in the sky, Vega is a larger and younger star than our own solar system’s bright center by leaps and bounds; Vega boasts twice the mass of our sun, and at 600 million years old, it’s also 3.4 billion years younger.  With such a large center, the rest of the system is equally massive: the Vega system is 4-times the size of our solar system.

“Our findings echo recent results showing multiple-planet systems are common beyond our sun,” said Kate Su, an astronomer at the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona. Su presented the results Tuesday at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Long Beach, Calif., and is lead author of a paper on the findings accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal.

While the differences between our system and the Vega system are immense, the similarities are really what have astronomers intrigued: our structural similarity may mean exoplanets, planets beyond our solar system, may soon be discovered. With this new asteroid belt spotted by telescopes that see in infrared light, the image of the Vega system appears much more similar to our own.

When adjusted to a similar scale, both solar systems have a warmer, inner asteroid belt (the one between Mars and Jupiter) and a cooler, outer asteroid belt at the edges. A younger, dustier system, if the Vega system does have planets, they seem likely to be hidden between these two asteroid belts.

In addition to our sun, Vega recalls the observed star Fomalhaut. Younger than Vega, but approximately the same size, Fomalhaut also has two asteroid belts surrounding it–with a large planet dubbed “Fomalhaut b” nestled in between. With its size and dual-belted structure, Fomalhaut is also believed to support additional planets.

The discovery of this asteroid belt could lead to a much larger finding of planets orbiting Vega itself. By 2018, astronomers may know with more certainty whether there are more planets around Fomalhaut and any planets orbiting Vega. The James Webb Space Telescope will launch that year, ready to trace the weak infrared light from both systems.


Have something to say? Let us know in the comments section or send an email to the author. You can share ideas for stories by contacting us here.

Comments
Seven planetary missions receive NASA extensions Seven planetary missions receive NASA extensions
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 05, 2014

Milky Way part of newly discovered supercluster Milky Way part of newly discovered supercluster
Andrew McDonald - Sep 04, 2014

Life after NASA: Astronauts' careers after returning to Earth Life after NASA: Astronauts' careers after returning to Earth
Andrew McDonald - Sep 03, 2014

ISS to get first ever 3D printer in space ISS to get first ever 3D printer in space
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 02, 2014

Geckos sent to space in Russian sex experiment return dead Geckos sent to space in Russian sex experiment return dead
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 02, 2014

New cryotank passes NASA tests New cryotank passes NASA tests
Andrew McDonald - Sep 02, 2014

Mars to be prominent in September evening sky Mars to be prominent in September evening sky
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 01, 2014

Flash memory on Opportunity rover computer to be reformatted Flash memory on Opportunity rover computer to be reformatted
Laurel Kornfeld - Sep 01, 2014

Early galaxy 'Sparky' was a star factory Early galaxy 'Sparky' was a star factory
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

NASA’s “Swarmies” tested for use in space NASA’s “Swarmies” tested for use in space
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

ESA observatory catches white dwarf going supernova ESA observatory catches white dwarf going supernova
Andrew McDonald - Aug 29, 2014

Researchers detect neutrinos in the Sun's core Researchers detect neutrinos in the Sun's core
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 29, 2014

Spitzer telescope observes colliding asteroids around young star Spitzer telescope observes colliding asteroids around young star
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 29, 2014

NASA’s Space Launch System moves toward development stage NASA’s Space Launch System moves toward development stage
Andrew McDonald - Aug 27, 2014

Martian rock deemed unsuitable for Curiosity rover's drilling Martian rock deemed unsuitable for Curiosity rover's drilling
Andrew McDonald - Aug 27, 2014

Telescopes capture unprecedented view of early colliding galaxies Telescopes capture unprecedented view of early colliding galaxies
Andrew McDonald - Aug 26, 2014

Five possible landing spots chosen for Rosetta probe Five possible landing spots chosen for Rosetta probe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

Thigh bone on Mars? NASA weighs in Thigh bone on Mars? NASA weighs in
Ross Cronkrite - Aug 26, 2014

Fermilab experiment questions nature of the universe Fermilab experiment questions nature of the universe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

NASA may delay commercial contract award after failed SpaceX launch NASA may delay commercial contract award after failed SpaceX launch
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 26, 2014

NASA restores Voyager's historic footage of Neptune's strange moon Triton NASA restores Voyager's historic footage of Neptune's strange moon Triton
Ross Cronkrite - Aug 26, 2014

Pluto-bound probe crosses orbit of Neptune Pluto-bound probe crosses orbit of Neptune
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 25, 2014

SpaceX Falcon 9 flew with 3D-printed component SpaceX Falcon 9 flew with 3D-printed component
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

High resolution satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base High resolution satellite launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Tiny Peruvian satellite released from ISS Tiny Peruvian satellite released from ISS
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Rare black hole confirmed using light oscillations Rare black hole confirmed using light oscillations
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

Russian space official claims plankton grew on exterior of ISS Russian space official claims plankton grew on exterior of ISS
Andrew McDonald - Aug 22, 2014

In ancient star, scientists find material from early universe In ancient star, scientists find material from early universe
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 22, 2014

Boeing meets deadline for designing commercial spacecraft Boeing meets deadline for designing commercial spacecraft
Laurel Kornfeld - Aug 21, 2014