Hubble Reveals Lopsided Debris Disk Around Star
This image taken by NASA's Hubble Space Telescope shows a lopsided debris disk around the young star HD 15115.
The disk, seen edge-on, is the dense blue line extending from the star to the upper right and lower left of the image. As seen from Earth, the edge-on disk resembles a needle sticking out from the star. The disk appears thicker and longer at upper right than at lower left, evidence of the disk's lopsided structure.
Astronomers think the disk's odd imbalanced look is caused by dust particles following a highly elliptical orbit around the star, which is slightly brighter than the Sun. The lopsidedness may have been caused by planets sweeping up debris in the disk or by the gravity of a nearby star.
Astronomers used an occulting mask on Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys to block out the bright starlight so they could see the dim disk. The occulting masks can be seen in the image as the dark circle in the center and the dark bar on the left. The star is behind the central mask.
HD 15115 is among nearly 30 stars that belong to the Beta Pictoris Moving Group. Moving groups are expanded clusters of stars believed to have a common birthplace and age, in this case about 12 million years, that are traveling together loosely through space. HD 15115 is 150 light-years from Earth.
Dusty disks are known to exist around at least 100 stars, but because of the difficulty in observing material close to the brightness of a star, less than a dozen have been studied closely.
Astronomers described the disk as one of the most peculiar debris disks that Hubble has ever imaged. They in fact made follow-up observations with the W.M. Keck Observatory in Hawaii to confirm the disk's presence.
Hubble's Advanced Camera for Surveys snapped the image on July 17, 2006.