[Top] - This NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a portion of a vast dust disk around the star Beta Pictoris shows that the disk is thinner than thought previously. Estimates based on the Hubble image place the disk's thickness as no more than one billion miles (600 million kilometers), or about 1/4 previous estimates from ground-based observations. The disk is tilted nearly edge-on to Earth. Because the dust has had enough time to settle into a flat plane, the disk may be older than some previous estimates. A thin disk also increases the probability that comet-sized or larger bodies have formed through accretion in the disk. Both conditions are believed to be characteristic of a hypothesized circumstellar disk around our own Sun, which was a necessary precursor to the planet-building phase of our Solar Systems, according to current theory.
[Bottom] - For comparison the disk appears four times thicker in a ground-based image of Beta Pictoris due to the limitation of atmospheric seeing. This red-light image (approximately 7,000 Angstroms) image was obtained at the Mauna Kea Observatory, Hawaii, on the 2.2-meter telescope. (Kalas, P., & Jewitt, D. 1995, AJ, 110, 794)
Bottom Credit: Paul Kalas (University of Hawaii 2.2-m telescope, Mauna Kea)
HST imaging team: Al Schultz, Helen Hart (Computer Sciences Corporation), Kent Reinhard (Doane College, NE), Fred Bruhweiler, Mike DiSanti (Catholic University of America), Glenn Schneider (Steward Observatory, University of Arizona), and NASA.