NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope has caught what astronomers believe is the type of collision that can result in new planets forming. In a press release this week, NASA scientists said they had already been following the star they refer to as NGC 2547-ID8. They added that sometime between August 2012 and January 2013, there was a sudden surge of fresh dust.
Scientists suspect a collision
They believe the reason for that dust surge is a collision between two “big” asteroids,” which they think created a massive cloud made up of grains of very find sand. Those small grains “are now smashing themselves into smithereens and slowly leaking away from the star,” according to graduate student and lead study author Huan Meng of the University of Arizona, Tucson.
The Spitzer has captured the aftermath of suspected collisions before, this is the first time astronomers have been able to collect data on it both before and after it happened.
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NASA – Details on the study
This latest study focuses on a star that is approximately 1,200 light years away from Earth. Astronomers had already recorded differing numbers in how much dust was around the star, which they say suggests that the star had been in collisions before. Scientists who were participating in the study continued tracking the star in hopes of catching an even bigger impact.
Unfortunately the Spitzer had to turn away from the star in question because it was blocked by the sun. However, five months later, it was retrained on the star, and the team said they found “what appears to be the wreckage of a huge smashup.” They have been studying how it has been changing as the cloud of dust moves away from the star.
Now there is a thick cloud of dust orbiting the star, and astronomers have been studying changes in the infrared signal from that cloud. Astronomers think they’re watching a planet form in real time as they continue to watch the star with the Spitzer Space Telescope.