News Release Archive:

News Release 764 of 1028

January 7, 1998 12:00 AM (EST)

News Release Number: STScI-1998-03

Astronomers Have Found a New Twist in a Suspected Proto-Planetary Disk


Image: Circumstellar Disk Around Beta Pictoris

Circumstellar Disk Around Beta PictorisSTScI-PRC1998-03

Screen-use options: These files are created for viewing on your monitor

Print-use download options: These files are designed to fit on letter-size paper


These two Hubble Space Telescope visible-light views of the edge- on disk of dust around the star Beta Pictoris yield telltale evidence for the existence of planets, and possibly the gravitational tug of a companion brown dwarf or bypassing star. Both views reveal warps in the disk that might be caused by the gravitational pull of one or more unseen companions. Since its discovery, Beta Pictoris has long been considered one of the nearest examples of an extrasolar planetary system still forming.

The "false color" images show gradations in the brightness of the disk, caused simply by the fact that the disk shines by reflected starlight, and so the farther the dust is from the central star, the fainter it is. In both views the bright glare of the central star is blocked by a black strip that divides the disk into left (east) and right (west) components. Because the disk is tilted nearly edge-on to Earth the images show a sharp, bright, straight ridge extending over the entire length of the disk.(in our solar system this feature is seen as zodiacal light, where sunlight is reflected by a concentration of dust in the ecliptic plane).

The orbits of the planets of our solar system are added for scale.

[TOP] - This Wide Field Planetary Camera 2 image shows the full extent of the disk, which spans 140 billion miles (1500 astronomical units) edge-to-edge. An unusual flaring at the top of the right side of the disk (the Southwest side of the disk) shows that dust has been pulled above the dense plane of the disk beyond what is observed in the left side. A gravitational perturbation by an unseen substellar- mass companion farther from the star than planets would be, or a tug from a bypassing star might cause this flaring. The image was taken on June 22, 1995.

[BOTTOM] - An unprecedented detailed close-up view of the inner region of the disk taken with the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph shows a warp in the disk. Though this warp was first seen by Hubble in 1995, the new images go closer to the star than ever before to about 1.4 billion miles (15 astronomical units) — a radius smaller than that of Uranus' orbit. These new details support the presence of one or more planets orbiting the star. The image was taken in September 1997.

Object Name: Beta Pictoris

Image Type: Astronomical/Illustration

Top Credit: Al Schultz (CSC/STScI, and NASA)

Bottom Credit: Sally Heap (GSFC/NASA)


The above montage includes these images:

Dust Disk Around Star Beta Pictoris (False Color Image) Image Type: Astronomical Dust Disk Around Star Beta Pictoris (False Color Image) Inner Region of Dust Disk Around Star Beta Pictoris (False Color Image) Image Type: Astronomical Inner Region of Dust Disk Around Star Beta Pictoris (False Color Image)

All images from this news release:

To access available information and downloadable versions of images in this news release, click on any of the images below: