This is an artist's concept of the near stellar environment of the star Beta Pictoris. This illustration is based upon recent observations made with the Goddard High Resolution Spectrograph aboard the Hubble Space Telescope.
This illustration shows three major components of the near stellar region, which is roughly the size of our inner Solar System. The reddish center ring (C) is a diffuse gas disk, which has a stable orbit around the star. This ring surrounds an inner disk (D) of gas which is slowly drifting toward the star. The white "comet-like" features in this bluish disk are dense streams of gas spiraling down the star gravitational potential "well." The outer filamentary structures (A&B), first detected by the Space Telescope, may be an expanding gas halo, or foreground features seen in the local interstellar medium.
The disk's structure and dynamics are inferred from the GHRS spectra of Fe II line profiles (left.) The spectra taken on January 12, 1991 (bold line) are markedly different form those taken 23 days later, (thin line) on February 4. This indicates the presence of a "lumpy" turbulent cloud of moving gas which dramatically changes the structure of gas over a short time periods.
A ground based view of the Beta Pictoris system (upper left) shows that the gas disk is embedded deep within a much broader disk of dust particles more than 100 billion kilometers across which has been detected previously in ground based observations.
Credit: Dana Berry (STScI)