Compass and Scale Image of Circumstellar Disks
This is a set of images from a NASA Hubble Space Telescope survey of the architecture of debris systems around young stars. Ten previously discovered circumstellar debris systems, plus MP Mus (a mature protoplanetary disk of age comparable to the youngest of the debris disks), were studied. Hubble's sharp view uncovers an unexpected diversity and complexity in the structures. As the accompanying scale shows, the disk-like structures are vast, many times larger than the planetary distribution in our solar system, gauged by the diameter of Neptune's orbit. Some disks are tilted edge-on to our view, others nearly face-on. Asymmetries and warping in the disks might be caused by the host star's passage though interstellar space. Alternatively, the disks may be affected by the action of unseen planets. In particular, the asymmetry in HD 181327 looks like a spray of material that is very distant from its host star. It might be the aftermath of a collision between two small bodies, suggesting that the unseen planetary system may be chaotic. The stars surveyed may be as young as 10 million years old and as mature as more than 1 billion years old. The visible-light survey was done with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS). The STIS coronagraph blocks out the light from the host star so that the very faint reflected light from the dust structures can be seen. The images have been artificially colored to enhance detail.